BWW Review: So Many Kids Having the Times of Their Lives On the Stage, and Actually Flying, in Arts in Motion's PETER PAN
When producing PETER PAN, there is just one rule that you must follow: Peter and the kids have to fly! If you don't have the cast hoisted into the air, attached to ropes, soaring through the air, then don't do the show. I know it's difficult to do, quite expensive and tough to get proper help to accomplish it, but it's worth it. Having a grounded PETER PAN is akin to having The Sound of Music without any music. The show's signature song is called "I'm Flying," not "I'm on the Ground Pretending to Fly." Very few shows have this same requirement (Mary Poppins comes to mind), but if you want to do PETER PAN but you don't want the kids to fly, then please, I beg you, pass on any thought of doing it. You'll be doing yourselves--and me--a big favor.
Which brings me to the Arts in Motion Community Youth Theater's production of PETER PAN, which I had the pleasure of seeing on its final performance at the Pasco Middle School auditorium last weekend. And thankfully, glory hallelujah, the kids flew! There is something so soul-stirring, so magical, about seeing the kids in flight. It captures the meaning of the show, and we sit in awe at the air-born kids swaying above the stage, having the time of their lives.
Theatre, especially children's theatre, must be fun. For the performers as well as for the audience. And if the performers exude total joy, the electricity of exuberance, then so will the audience. And boy did it look like the Arts in Motion kids were having a grand time onstage!
The show is goofy fun, and you will never mistake it for "Spring Awakening." There's a messiness to the whole proceeding, which is inherent with so many pulleys, set pieces and little kids. It's not a tight ship--but it is a fun one. There's even a Little Mermaid Ariel reference thrown in for good measure.
Based on J.M. Barrie's play, with lyrics by Carolyn Leigh (with additional lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green) and music by Morris Charlap (with additional music by Jule Styne), PETER PAN is as cute as a puppy using a Teddy Bear as a pillow. And this particular production of it was as adorable as a pack of Gummy Bears sprung to life.
Maitlin Hart played Peter the day I saw it (Haley Sanders played the part during other performances), and she robustly jolted the show to life. Sprightly, energetic, lively, bawdy at times. Even when her energy was forced, she brought sheer magic to the whole thing. Her "I Gotta Crow" was a hoot.
Jessica Haberland as Wendy has a pre-Raphaelite beauty and suits the role just right. (Heidi Konow also did well as the Grown Up Wendy the day I saw it.) Zachary Trenkle has nice energy as John. And Parker Medlin as the youngest Darling lad, Michael, is one of the standouts in the show, showcasing the joy of performing. I like how the young actor is always in character, acting even when it's not his lines. This is hard for many kids to understand, so when we see it, attention must be paid.
When all three children sing the glorious "I'm Flying," it will put a smile on your face, even if you're in a cranky mood prior to it.
Cassidy Haberland was fine as Ms. Darling, though it was sometimes hard to understand her words due to enunciation issues. Mr. Darling was appropriately portrayed by Aidan Kender. However, I do miss having the same actor playing both Mr. Darling and Captain Hook; it just adds even more levels to the show.
Seven-year-old Isla Hutcheson made for a particularly adorable dog, Nana.
Roman Ricardo looks as though he was born to play the part of the one-hand baddie, Captain Hook. He was lusciously evil, reeking of self-loving hideousness, enjoying being the scoundrel to end all scoundrels. Great as he often was, sometimes his words got lost and it was hard to understand him.
As Slightly Soiled, Kevin Grumbley burst on the stage with energy and enthusiasm; he owned every scene he was in, tackling his part with verve.
Other standouts include Tristan Haberland as a rather psychotic Starkey, and Allyson Cloversettle as a pirate with Manson Family eyes (which is a compliment in this context). Cloversette proves the point that even an ensemble member can steal the show; she was perhaps the strongest in the cast and she didn't have many, or even any, lines. And yet, every pirate scene was galvanized by her gleefully wicked presence.
In the performance I saw, the following kids sang, danced, acted and did it all with much aplomb: Bernadette Richter, Kenton Hester, Hannah Butler, Isabella Como, Caleb Crister, Connor Mirrop, Samantha Colon, Amelia Hesting, Karis Williams, Ben D'Water, Elijah Boone, Aubrey Welbon, Ellie DeLoyd, Aura Kinney, Olivia Wymer, Adrie Jones, Gen D'Water, Chase Hemphill, Alexis Hopkins, Dylan Glover, Meg D'water, Sarah Hoerbelt, Kayla Hopkins, Rio Ricardo, Sophie Sanders, Zoe Schambeau, MacKenzie Trenkle, Samantha Colon, Joey Principato, Channing Romesser, Amanda Cloversettle, Matthew Cloversettle, Makayla Mauradian, Aubrey Welbon, Ashlyn Masson, and Morgan Hemphill.
Tick-Tock the Croc, played by Nina Glover, was the tiniest crocodile I've ever seen, and I loved the interpretation of the part even more for that. The menacing little monster reminded me of Dark Helmet in Mel Brooks' Spaceballs. The reptilian costume looked like something out The Attack of the Alligator People (an actual movie), except this beast was riding on something that resembled a skateboard. The Croc even high-fived Peter in passing; it's details like this that I live for.
Kudos to the director/choreographer Capria Pichette and musical director Alison Graham for a job well done. Gene Kish's lighting was fine if unspectacular, and Sam Schambeau's set pieces--including one for the Lost Boys lair--were so much fun; one of them even included an actual slide (every audience member, no matter what age, probably fantasized about sliding down it at one point during the show). Imagine a life-size Rube Goldberg contraption to get an idea of the cleverness of these set pieces.
I wish the Tarantella wasn't performed in front of the main curtain, although I understood why (set changes); it's such a special dance that I wanted it to fill the whole stage. But I loved the use of drumsticks in the bizarre Act 2 opener, "Ugh-A-Wug," perhaps the strangest tune in musical theatre history.
My choice for show-stopping number has to be "I Won'tGrow Up" with dozens of young people singing and dancing...and doing it well. There is a lot of screaming and running around in the show--it sometimes looks like a middle school classroom when a substitute teacher is present.
There are obvious different levels of experience on the stage, from teenage veterans to Grammar School newbies. But each kid is up there, trying his or her best, basking in the glow of performing, owning the stage, and shooting for the "second star to the right and straight on 'til morning," as Peter would say.
I'm so thankful that Arts in Motion is there for the kids who maybe don't have a proper drama program in their particular school. They fill in that all-important gap, and the students, now more than ever, need them. Groups like A.I.M. are the lifeblood of the community. Because a world without youth theatre is like a bicycle without tires...or a body without a soul.