BWW Review: PETER PAN AND WENDY at Shakespeare Theatre Company
Director Alan Paul has a holiday hit on his hands with PETER PAN AND WENDY-- a show that will delight adults and children alike. It is pure, decadent fun.
PETER PAN AND WENDY, adapted by Lauren Gunderson-- American's most produced living playwright--has all the magic, joy, and much of the potency of J.M. Barrie's original, but is reimagined for a contemporary audience. Lauren Gunderson, widely known for her strong, intellectual female protagonists, refocuses our attention on fresh portrayals of Wendy Darling (Sinclair Daniel) and Tiger Lily (Isabella Star LeBlanc), exploring the ways that young women navigate the world, rely on each other, and, ultimately, how a united group of young people can band together and do something extraordinary.
The sexism and racism of the original is pervasive in even the most recent incarnations of Peter Pan. In Gunderson's imagining, Tiger Lily--played by the captivating Isabella Star LeBlanc-- is adventurous, rebellious, and decidedly vocal about the history of colonialism and its enduring ramifications in Neverland. Gunderson's emphasis on feminism, anti-colonialism, and anti-racism in a format that speaks earnestly to children who will someday, sooner than we think, have the world on their shoulders is powerfully important.
The experience Shakespeare Theatre Company has devised is spectacular: the sets and costumes are visually striking, the laugh lines land with force, and the drama is always high. A note from Director Alan Paul illuminates much of what makes PETER PAN AND WENDY such remarkable escapism:
"At its core, Peter Pan is about imagination. Rather than go small, we have decided to go big! There will be sumptuous sets, flying, a mischievous and magical Tinkerbell, and enormous crocodile, and even a real dog playing Nana."
PETER PAN AND WENDY is so awe inspiring in no small part thanks to the expansive creative team. More than 65 people, from animal trainers, designers, animators, and musicians worked in tandem to bring this show to life. I am still reeling from the combination of Loren Shaw's gorgeous costumes, Jason Sherwood's elaborate sets, John Gromada's playful sound design, Isabella Byrd's exquisite lighting design, and Jared Mezzochi's lighthearted projection design.
The ensemble of actors, under Alan Paul's expert direction, are exceptional. Sinclair Daniel as Wendy--reimagined as a confident young woman with scientific aspirations--gives a standout performance. She and Justin Mark as Peter Pan banter beautifully, and Daniel's self-assuredness is a lovely contrast to Marks' bravado and whimsy. Isabella Star LeBlanc as Tiger Lily delivers a powerful, thought provoking, consistent performance as she raises questions about Peter's complicity in Neverland's complicated colonial history. Other performances of note include Derek Smith as a flamboyant Captain Hook, Tom Story as a hilarious Smee, and Jenni Barber as a feisty Tinkerbell.
On opening night, and I hope every night until January 12th, the audience was packed with children. The magic of surreptitiously watching the little boy in front of me quite literally on the edge of his seat for nearly the entire two hour performance carried just as much weight as the sumptuous sets, clever script, and exquisite acting. As Alan Paul tells us in the playbill, "one definition of a classic is a story that appeals simultaneously to both children and adults, one that continues to reveal its wisdom as you grow up." Shakespeare Theatre Company has managed to mount a production that will astound theatre-goers of all ages.
PETER PAN AND WENDY plays at the Shakespeare Theatre Company through January 12, 2020. For tickets or more information, click here.
Running time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission
Advisory: Recommended for audience 5 years and over.
Peter Pan and Wendy. Based on the play by J.M. Barrie. Adapted by Lauren Gunderson. Directed by Alan Paul. Featuring Jenni Barber, Chauncey Chestnut, Sinclair Daniel, Christopher Flaim, Isabella Star LaBlanc, Justin Mark, Derek Smith and Tom Story. Composer Jenny Giering. Scenic Designer Jason Sherwood. Costume Designer Loren Shaw. Lighting Designer Isabella Byrd. Sounds Designer John Gromada. Projection Designer Jared Mezzochi. Puppet Designer James Ortiz. Flying Sequence Choreographer Paul Rubin. Fight Choreographer David Leong. Choreographer Katie Spelmen.