BWW Review: PETER PAN at Palm Canyon Theatre
There's more than an ageless boy flying at Palm Canyon Theatre; the entire production of Peter Pan soars from beginning to end. Although the level of excellence is set by Kellee McQuinn as the boy who won't grow up, every moment and every character is a delight.
Being of an age where Peter Pan was defined by a rather creaky black-and-white production starring Mary Martin which was broadcast every Christmas, I attended opening night with some reservations. Those were cast aside the moment I saw Michael (Gavin Scott), the youngest Darling child, riding on the back of Nana (Isabella Morrisson), the family's oversized pooch. We were immediately asked to cast aside adult behavior and expectations, and enjoy life through a child's eye.
We soon meet the rest of the Darling family: Wendy (Grace Carey), John (Jackson Enzler), Mrs. Darling (Denise Carey) and Mr. Darling (Paul Grant, delightfully bouncing from one side of the stage to the other). We get a glimpse of the magic which will follow when Tinkerbell flits about the stage, a laser pointer accompanied by electronic piano trills played by Musical Director Jaci Davis. But all of that is just prelude. We have really come to see just one thing - Peter Pan! Will a woman be believable as a young boy? Will we like her/him? And WILL SHE FLY?
Kellee McQuinn surpasses our highest hopes in all categories. She doesn't just fly; she bursts through the open nursery window as if she was shot out of a canon, and though I knew that the actress was - let's say - of a fully adult age, one glance at the face immediately told us not only that it was a young boy, but one who loved all the mischief and magic that youth can bring. Her speaking and singing voice cemented that characterization of being cocky, but never arrogant. When he teaches the three Darling children to fly, well, get out the hankies for a few tears of glee. Could there be one person in the audience who didn't want to join them?
We travel to Neverland ahead of the family, and are introduced to some dancing Indians and then the most rag-tag group of scallywag pirates ever assembled. Again, all that's nice, but we want to see Captain Hook. When he appears, in full brocaded splendor with curled black hair, he is in great hands (or one hand, one hook) with Paul Grant in full opera buffo style. Although he thinks of himself as the leader, we soon realize he is just as dumb as his band of pirates. I barely ever considered Hook to be a singing role, but Grant's beautiful voice made every note a treat.
And lastly, there's Tiger Lilly (Allegra Angelo), Peter Pan's frenemy who leads her Indian tribe in gleeful song and dance, and finally helps Peter conquer the pirates. Angelo is one of PCT's most bankable performers.
One more highlight, among many, were the energetic Lost Boys. Director Se Layne certainly coaxed boyish enthusiasm from them, both in sound and movement, and they wore clothes and hair that only a boy could love.
And resident costumer Derik Shopinski, in addition to outfitting and stage managing the whole production, absolutely owned the audience when he somehow crawled across the stage as the ticking crocodile.
Youthful energy appears to be the goal of director/choreographer Se Layne, and she let's each of us revisit our youth for two hours. Thanks, Se! Set & lighting designer J. W. Layne has once again given us workable locations, and a shout out to stage technicians (magicians?) Andy Rusch and Christian Clark, who had as many as four actors flying at a time!
Music is in the capable hands of Jaci Davis at the piano, who is joined in performance by David Bronson on drums and Larry Holloway on bass.
At the opening night party after the show, generously hosted by Eight4Nine Restaurant, I was speaking to a couple who had attended PCT for their first time. The man asked if every performance was so excellent, from performers to design, sound, music, the lot. I stammered something about "They sure try," but inside, I was bursting with pride for our local theatre company!
Peter Pan plays for one more weekend, closing on September 29. Tickets and further information are at www.palmcanyontheatre.org, or by phone the theatre at 760-323-5123. It is the first show in the company's 23rd season, and has certainly set the bar high.
Photo by Paul Hayashi