BWW Reviews: Take a Magical Trip to Neverland with PETER PAN Under the Threesixty Big Top
For children of all ages and that wide-eyed child still dreaming of Neverland within, your ticket to adventure, whimsy and danger has taken up residence in Tysons Corner through August. J. M. Barrie's classic PETER PAN has swooped back onto the stage and brought the popular story combined with dazzling stagecraft for a wholly immersive experience to enthrall a new generation of audiences.
Peter Pan (as played by the agile and charming Dan Rosales) flies, fights, tumbles, rolls, and soars, propelled by theatrical magic. Peter still flies into the Darling children's window and leads them on a high-flying journey all the way to Neverland, but this time the onstage flying effects are enhanced a fully 360-degree projected background that helps propel the story and the characters into a new level of excitement. The audience - I, for one - is likewise fully transported on the adventure. Director Thom Southerland obviously has his finger on the pulse of PETER PAN - the character and the production. The pacing is swift and there is not a wasted moment throughout the two hour running time of the production.
I could list other aspects of the technical aspects of the 360-experience and the dynamic stage on which the story unfolds, but suffice it to say, it all works beautifully under the space-age big top constructed for the production. Seven-time Olivier Award winning scenic designer William Dudley has done a magnificent job of pulling together the immersive and exciting stage presentation. While impressive, it all goes to serve the ultimate purpose of telling the story of Peter Pan and his adventures in Neverland in a way that can appeal to diehard fans of traditional theatre and those who revel in the immersive experience and film-style enhancements.
As a huge fan of the Peter Pan story in all its forms, I am happy to report Captain Hook (the snarling, larger than life Stephen Carlile) is still Peter's number one enemy, leading his pirate band to confront Pan and the lost boys at every turn. For this production, however, there is a heightened sense of danger: Hook is not just a comical villain. Wielding an over-sized hook, this Captain Hook actually draws blood on more than one occasion, making for a formidable adversary for the heroic Peter. Parents of young children may want to do some explaining about Hook's murderous moments prior to attending, just in case.
A character that should appeal to the kiddos in a different way is that scrappy, bitchy fairy Tinkerbell who has graduated from a beam of light in other stage productions. Here, Peter's spunky, protective sidekick is played with girlish glee and an edge by the acrobatic and hilarious Jessie Sherman. One part little sister, two parts crazy ex-girlfriend and a big dose spoiled brat, Sherman's Tink nearly steals her scenes as the possessive fairy and rival to the sweet and motherly Wendy (Sarah Charles).
Wendy and her brothers, Michael and John (Scott Weston and John Alati, respectively) are all played by young adults, as are all the other cast members, and once you see the show you can see why. The skill needed for the flying sequences and fight scenes require specialized training - think Cirque du Soleil - and these performers are more than up to the task. Even if the flying apparatus used for this show makes the actors look like human marionettes and there is no attempt to hide the rigging, the cast effortlessly makes theatrical magic with the tools at hand. Thom Southerland's direction was given an expert assist with the movement and choreography by Gypsy Snider, co-founder of the acclaimed company Les 7 Doigts de la Main, who also created the circus moves for the recent Broadway and touring revival of PIPPIN.
After NBC's live television production last year took liberties with the Charlap/Styne musical we all know from the Mary Martin performances of old, this adaptation adheres very close to Barrie's novel and the stage adaptation he created in the Edwardian era. Hook doubles as Mr. Darling, the children's nanny Nana is a raggedy puppet, and there are even evocative appearances by Neverland's mermaids - a pair of supple aerialists - to make fans of the story happy. The action is accompanied by a musical score that ranges from majestic to Celtic, credited to Benjamin Wallfisch and Howard Herrick.
It was wonderful to see so many parents and grandparents taking advantage of sharing the experience with children of all ages. When I attend a show aimed at a family audience, I revel in observing the children in the audience, watching their reactions. This rendition of PETER PAN kept many of their eyes wide open and mouths agape. Hell, I was just like them, the eight year-old me woke up and was just as enthralled. With affordable ticket prices and a run that goes through mid-August, there are plenty of chances to join Peter, Wendy, Hook and Tickerbell for a rollicking, immersive time. After all, to paraphrase Barrie, "PETER PAN is an awfully big adventure!"
Don't want to take my word for it? How about this: I sat behind a father and his daughter, approximately nine years old. Prior to the show, the dad was pointing out various aspects of the stage and what the performance was going to be like. "Basically, Molly, this is going to be awesome," said the father. By the end of the night, I think Molly agreed.
One more note about parking: If you drive, your best bet is to parking in Tysons Corner Mall lot A and there are signs to direct you. There are also helpful people to direct you. There was also someone offering premium parking for $25 which I did not fork over. My suggestion is to get to Tysons at least an hour ahead of your curtain time to avoid major traffic problems. Finally, if you bring small ones to the show, be prepared: there is a huge concession and souvenir area you cannot avoid. Hey, it's under a big top, after all.
~ follow me on Twitter @jeffwalker66
Performed in the Threesixty Theatre at Tysons Corner Center (8200 Watson Street, McLean, VA)
JUNE 24 - AUGUST 16, 2015
Produced by Norton Herrick of Herrick Entertainment and Charlie Burnell of Threesixty Entertainment
Directed by Thom Southerland
Running time: 2 hours, with one intermission
For parking and more information click HERE
Tickets for PETER PAN start at $25 for weekday performances and at $35 for weekend performances. Premium and VIP ticket packages are available. Tickets are available for purchase on site at the Threesixty Theatre box office, online at peterpan360.com or Ticketmaster.com, at any Ticketmaster retail location, or by calling (800) 745-3000. Discounts are available for groups of 10 or more by calling (877) 407-8497. For more information, visit peterpan360.com.
Photos: (TOP) Dan Rosales takes flight as Peter Pan in PETER PAN at the Threesixty Theatre now through August 16. (RIGHT) Hook (Stephen Carlile) and his pirates, and (LEFT) Peter leads the Darling children to Neverland.
Photo Credit: JEREMY DANIEL