BWW Reviews: PETER PAN AND WENDY Delights at Imagination Stage

By: Jun. 30, 2013
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J.M. Barrie's story of Peter Pan - the boy that never wanted to grow up and the company he kept - has been the source of many a film and stage production and it's easy to see why. There's the enchanted world of Neverland, many precocious children, an evil villain, and assorted other characters that are sure to delight audiences young and old. To that end, Imagination Stage's current production of Alyn Cardarelli and Steve Goers' children's musical Peter Pan and Wendy is much like all of the others that have come before it. Adventure, fantasy, life lessons, and interesting characters? It has it all.

Those looking for the high-flying acrobatics and varied musical score found in the better known Broadway musical that first premiered in 1954 won't find them in this take on the classic story. However, with an exquisite cast of actor-singers and innovative staging it's sure to delight those that appreciate theatrical art. Perhaps even more important, it's an excellent way to introduce even the youngest theatregoers to the world of Wendy Darling's nursery and the world just outside of it - Neverland. Audience participation - always a fun thing for children it seems - makes this version even more interactive than its predecessors.

The story more or less follows with other versions of Peter Pan with several exceptions, with the most prominent being an interesting ending twist involving Wendy's family in London.

We meet Wendy (Justine Moral) as she struggles with her parents' (Angela Miller and James Konicek, double-cast as Tiger Lily and Captain Hook who more than prove their versatility) decision to move her out of the nursery. She knows she's no longer a very small child, but still isn't sure if she wants to and is ready to become an adult. When Mrs. Darling retrieves a box from outside of the nursery window when she sees how upset her daughter is by the decision, and Wendy opens it, she enters a new world. In an instant, she sees a shadow and meets Peter Pan (Jonathan Atkinson) and his good friend, Tinkerbell.

Within several brief moments, Wendy flies to Pan's Neverland. Endearing 'lesson time' with the Lost Boys (Matt Dewberry and Dan Van Why), scary encounters with the evil Captain Hook and his buffoon sidekick Smee (Michael John Casey), situation-altering interactions with the fierce and beautiful Indian princess Tiger Lily, and more than a few run-ins with the equally stubborn Peter Pan and Tinkerbell are only some of the features of Wendy's visit to Neverland. Lessons learned during those unexpected adventures prompt her to return to London and change the fate of some her newfound friends forever.

It's perhaps nearly impossible to ruin the story of Peter Pan and Wendy, but there are some things that set this production apart from the rest in good and not so good ways.

Let's first focus on the good.

Director Kathryn Chase Bryer's cast, composed of entirely adult actors, is reason enough to see this show. Imagination Stage - which I consider to be the premiere children's theatre in terms of all-around quality - continues its trend of casting actors that have oodles of experience in musical theatre of all kinds, not just that which is geared towards kids. Equally talented at singing and acting, the cast members are among the best talent this city has to offer. They do well at keeping the children's attention while dazzling adults with their skill.

For example, Atkinson's Peter Pan perfectly treads the line of being appropriately stubborn without being too obnoxious. His strong voice and physical acting skills make it a delight to watch him perform. Likewise, Moral is able to capture a child who is on the verge of growing up quite well. Her light and trained singing voice is perfectly suited to Wendy who is a bit of an angel-like ingénue at times.

As the other inhabitants of Neverland, the standouts are unsurprisingly Michael John Casey and James Konicek because they have the most outlandish characters to play. Nonetheless, they rise to the challenge and then some. Casey has exquisite physical comedy skills and is perfectly buffoon-like as Smee. Whenever he's onstage, it's impossible not to watch him to see what he'll do next. Konicek is deliciously sneaky, aggravated, and just evil enough as Captain Hook. He's evil without being too scary for a production that's geared toward the youngest of audience members.

Angela Miller, Matt Dewberry, and Dan Van Why also give memorable performances. Although I couldn't figure out why Tiger Lily is so angry in this version of the story, Miller has the fierce princess character down-pat and possesses mad bow and arrow skills. As the Lost Boys and, incidentally also mermaids in the lagoon, Dewberry and Why possess a knack for physical comedy that's sure to enthrall the audience.

In terms of the design, the standout is Klyph Stanford's innovative scenic design and projections. They allow the nursery to become Neverland with only a few small largely unexpected shifts highlighting the proximity between Wendy's real world and the fantasy one she inhabits for a short time. The use of large building blocks featuring letters or numbers - the kind we all played with as kids - is also an important creative touch that highlights the growing up theme of the story.

Additionally, Katie Touart's costumes for the Neverland characters are eye-popping and colorful especially in comparison to the simple and conservative threads that Wendy and her parents wear at the beginning of the show. I found Tiger Lily's costume to be particularly interesting from a design perspective. The use of fabrics to conceal an actor on a wheeling platform as Captain Hook's alligator enemy is also particularly creative.

No show is perfect, but for a musical to be successful one usually needs a strong score. Although all of the music is well-sung - with George Fulginiti-Shakar as a music director you can't go wrong - I found much of it to be derivative, repetitive, and not particularly memorable. The orchestrations do not conceal the fact that the melodies aren't exactly interesting. The sappy lyrics also don't particularly help matters. However, whatever I found lacking in this area is unlikely to detract from a young child's enjoyment of it. So in the end maybe it doesn't matter all that much in this case.

Likewise, although lighting designer Jason Arnold makes some creative choices that allow Tink to enter the audience for the first time, these choices are repeated so many times thereafter, that I was less than impressed with his overall design by the end of the show. However, the blinking lights over the audience may be a source of wonderment for a child no matter how many times the trick is used. So, much like the music, this deficiency may not matter all that much in the end.

At the end of the day, Peter Pan and Wendy is a great family show with some solid acting and design work. It's another victory for Imagination Stage.

Running Time: 70 minutes. Peter Pan and Wendy plays at Imagination Stage - 4908 Auburn Avenue in Bethesda, MD - through August 11, 2013. For tickets, call the box office at 301-280-1660 or purchase them online.

Photo Caption: Peter Pan (Jonathan Atkinson) helps Tinkerbell sprinkle fairy dust on Wendy (Justine
Moral) in PETER PAN AND WENDY at Imagination Stage. Photo Credit: Margot Schulman.


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