Review: PETER PAN at Broadway At The National

A (pardon the expression) high-flying fantasy romp.

By: Apr. 12, 2024
Review: PETER PAN at Broadway At The National
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Growing up, I didn't always have the warmest feelings toward's J.M. Barrie's most famous character. Look at my byline and you can probably figure out why. Yet I thoroughly enjoyed the national tour of "Peter Pan"  at Broadway at the National, which runs through April 21. It's a vibrant, engaging interpretation of a timeless story of imagination, adventure,  and the eternal desire to cling to simpler times.

While retaining the essentials of the story, this production has also adapted to reflect contemporary times and sensibilities.  The cast is multi-racial and in the opening scene in the Darling children's bedroom, references are made to YouTube and other facets of modern life. In this version, Wendy (Hawa Kamara) is an adolescent with dreams of becoming a doctor, but when Peter (the ebullient and engaging Nolan Almeida) flies in through the window and entreats her to come away to Neverland to serve as a mother figure for and tell stories to the Lost Boys, she accepts and joins him, along with her younger brothers Michael and John. There, they unite with Tiger Lily (Raye Zaragoza, wonderfully expressive) and her indigenous band, to do battle against the villainous Captain Hook. In another nod to modern sensibilities and acknowledgement of past injustices, each of Tiger Lilly's cohorts is given a specific First Nations tribal identity.

Cody Garcia accomplishes a remarkable transformation, both physically and tempermentally as the staid Mr. Darling and the theatrically evil Hook. I honestly did not realize they were portrayed by the same actor until after the show. Speaking of realizations, in modern parlance, I was "today years old" when it occurred to me that Hook, the captain of a naval vessel who has been deprived of an apendage by a sea creature, is Barrie's allusion to Moby-Dick. (Did Captain Hook take that moniker after his disfigurement by Peter and the crocodile? Or did he coincidentally always have a surname that matched the crude prosthetic he eventually acquired? I wonder.) Kurt Perry is hilarious as Smee, Hook's nervous first mate.

Director Lonny Price draws engaging performances from his cast. The child actors all rise to the occasion admirably. The effects in the production are nothing short of extraordinary. A screen at the rear of the stage is used to augment the set and the dance and flight choreography by Bailey Frankenberg, Tony Collins, and Ryan Perry Marks. I was sitting close enough to see the wires used to lift the actors in the air, but this was still the most realistic stage flying I have ever seen. It is dizzyingly convincing.  Paul Kieve is credited as the designer of Peter's fairy friend Tinker Bell, represented as a floating speck of light. She flies about, hiding in various set pieces and occasionally alighting on cast members' shoulders. It is accomplished so deftly you are left wondering how it was done.

Some readers may recall the climax of Marc Forster's 2004 film "Finding Neverland," in which Johnny Depp's Barrie gives free seats to 25 urchins at the premiere performance of "Peter Pan," to the utter horror of Dustin Hoffman's Charles Frohman, the play's producer. When the show begins, he-and we-understand Barrie's game: the children's laughter and cheers infect the rest of the audience and a hit is born. Like many theatre-goers, this author has, in the past irritated by noises from young audience members. In this case, though, the responses of the children-particularly in a key scene where Peter exhorts them to save Tinker Bell with their belief-enhance the immersive experience of the production. This is, after all, their story, their world. For a little over two hours, with an intermission, it's our privilege to join them there.




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