BWW Reviews: PETER PAN JR. at Stage West

BWW Reviews:  PETER PAN JR. at Stage West

Three years ago, Stage West presented a thoroughly thrilling production of Thoroughly Modern Millie Jr. Even though it only featured teenage performers, it still remains one of the finest shows I've seen there. Since then, the youth shows have included the enjoyable Annie Jr., the entertaining The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and the inconsistent Fame.

And now the young Stage West performers from Hernando, Pasco and Citrus counties, all ages ten to eighteen, are doing PETER PAN JR. on the main stage. Although the show doesn't reach the heights of some of their earlier youth shows, it has much to offer, especially for the kids.

It should be noted that this is not a junior version of the Broadway classic made famous by Mary Martin being hooked up to fly, soaring around the set. So don't come expecting such numbers as "I'm Flying," "When I Grow Up" or "Hook's Tango." Also, don't expect to see any of the kids hoisted in the air like they did in the original version. This is a pure Disney show with its own iconic numbers, such as the Bucs' anthem, "Yo Ho, A Pirates Life for Me," and the catchy "Following the Leader" that is still stuck in my head.

Dakota Ruiz and Amanda Waters share Peter Pan duties, and I saw Ruiz in the Saturday night performance. This young man has been a standout in many Stage West shows, and it's a delight seeing him as the lead that carries this production. He has such natural stage presence, which is perfect for this showy role, and he sings wonderfully. The part could use a little more of that Peter Pan magic, youthful spirit and mischief, but Ruiz does quite well.

Holly Frendberg is an enthusiastic Tinkerbell (you know it's a different version of the show when Tink actually talks, stomps her foot and sulks, and is not represented by a dancing dot of light). The beautiful Rebecca Douglas makes for a lovely Wendy, and Alec Kreger is strong as both Wendy's father and as Chief Tiger Bamboo. Nicole Piccinich brings the proper British side of Ms. Darling out, and one wonders why the rest of the Darling clan do not attempt similar British accents. Standout ensemble members include Ella Staneszewski and Tyler Strahan.

Christian Braz's Captain Hook steals the show. He relishes in the character's exquisite evil, and he breathes life into this one-handed meanie. His costume is brilliantly realized (thanks to costume creators Terri Marwood, Tracey Baumgartner, Theresa Frasier and Tori Razzano). Followed around by his lisping groupie, Smee (Marissa Piccinich), he makes the most of his every moment onstage. Like all good bad guys, from Snidely Whiplash to the Wicked Witch of the West, Hook oozes theatrical villainy, and we can't wait for his scenes and for his eventual comeuppance.

And don't worry, the Captain's nemesis, Tick Tock the Croc, makes an appearance or two.

Unfortunately there were major problems in the performance I saw. Sound glitches became an issue, with live microphones picking up the actors talking backstage. The choreography of the group numbers seemed haphazard, and many of the vocals weren't as tight as one would like. The cast could also use a lot more energy, from the smallest fairy to the zaniest pirate. They need to always be in the moment, all the time.

Oftentimes the staging didn't make sense, with actors unnecessarily obstructing other actors from the audience. The scene changes were mostly fine, but one particular set change near the end goes on for way too long.

The show is directed and choreographed by Terri Marwood, who also created the clever set design.

Stage West has a gorgeous facility that should make other theatres jealous, but one wonders if this show wouldn't have worked better in the smaller Forum, where I saw Thoroughly Modern Millie Jr. Also, with musicals, a song list should be included in the program. This is becoming an unhappy trend of late from many local venues. It's especially frustrating when we may be unfamiliar with a particular score (I know the full playlist of the original Broadway Peter Pan backwards and forwards, but I didn't know what the songs would be in this particular version). So for Stage West's next musical (the highly anticipated Hairspray, which opens in October), let's hope a full song list will be included in the program.

But go to PETER PAN JR. to see young people discovering the joy of being onstage. Here they are, many of them for the first time, getting a taste of the magic of theatre and having the time of their lives while doing it. It's fast moving and, even with its flaws, perfect for the kid in all of us.

PETER PAN JR. at Stage West runs through Sunday, August 17th. Please call (352) 683-5113 for tickets. Make sure to bring the younger kids; they'll love it!

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