BWW Review: Chicago Shakespeare Theater's PETER PAN Provides High-Flying Fun
Chicago Shakespeare Theater's summer family musical PETER PAN is chock full of dazzling moments that will delight children and adults alike. With music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe with a new book by Elliot Davis (based upon the book by Willis Hall), this production captures all the magic of the classic story of the boy who refuses to grow up in just 75 minutes. Adult audience members who are fans of J.M. Barrie's original novel or the iconic Disney animated film will find this PETER PAN a refreshing mix of the familiar and the new. And of course, young audiences seeing the story of PETER PAN for the first time will be altogether surprised and amazed by this telling.
Stiles and Drewe are perhaps best known as the composers of Disney's MARY POPPINS. The score moves the story along nicely and the show's entire run-time is nearly filled to the brim with songs. While none of the tunes are especially memorable on their own, the melodies are pleasing and help communicate the story through music, allowing young audiences to easily comprehend the narrative.
Amber Mak directs and choreographs this staging that in no way skimps on production value. Although this is a family show, the production uses the full capacity of Chicago Shakespeare Theater's resources. Set designer Jeff Kmiec's work transforms the Courtyard Theater into a place of whimsy, aided by jaw-dropping projections from Mike Tutaj. Costume designer Theresa Ham's pieces capture the period feel of Barrie's original novel, while outfitting Peter and the Lost Boys in garments that feel fittingly timeless. Kory Danielson's music direction and Matt Deitchman's orchestrations also ensure that this musical has the lush sound it deserves.
Of course, no PETER PAN could succeed without an engaged and energetic cast-and this one fully delivers. As Neverland's most famous resident, Johnny Shea makes an animated and warm Peter Pan-with just enough haughtiness to sell the role. As eldest Darling child Wendy, Elizabeth Stenholt finds an elegant balance between curious and stubborn. She also has a clear, sweet soprano that she lends wonderfully to all her songs, particularly "Just Beyond The Stars." Cameron Goode and Carter Graf are equally charming as her siblings John and Michael. James Konicek is both sinister and daffy as Peter's infamous nemesis Captain Hook (he also doubles as Mr. Darling). Konicek is in great company with Sean Patrick Fawcett (Smee), Christina Hall, Jonathan Butler-Duplessis, and Roberta Burke as his lively pirate crew. The pirates are well-matched by the lovable Lost Boys, essayed by Colin Lawrence, Travis Austin Wright, Michael Kurowski, and John Marshall Jr. The show also makes use of a Storyteller. While I did not find this narrator role fully integrated into Davis's book, Rengin Altay has a grounded and refreshing presence. Together the full ensemble brings so much magic to the stage.
It's also notable that PETER PAN makes ample use of the entire Courtyard space. As one would hope, Peter Pan goes soaring through the theater in a dazzling display of stage magic. And while many Chicago Shakespeare productions have actors traveling up and down the aisles en route to the stage, it was particularly special to witness this with children in the audience. I attended the show with a six-year-old family friend, and he was especially enthralled with this part of the production. PETER PAN truly puts audiences front-and-center for the high-flying magic that's in store, and the show makes a spectacular introduction to live theater for young audiences.
PETER PAN - A MUSICAL ADVENTURE plays Chicago Shakespeare Theater's Courtyard Theater on Navy Pier through August 19. Tickets are $22 for children 12 and under and $34 for adults. Visit www.chicagoshakes.com or call 312.595.5600.
Photos by Liz Lauren