While worth seeing, 'Peter Pan' ultimately misses the markTHEATER REVIEW: “Peter Pan or the Boy Who Would Not Grow Up …” opened Thursday night at the Duluth Playhouse. This is not the musical “Peter Pan” of our youth.
By: Lawrance Bernabo, for the News Tribune
“Peter Pan or the Boy Who Would Not Grow Up …” opened Thursday night at the Duluth Playhouse. This is not the musical “Peter Pan” of our youth. In this variant, the title character is played by a male, Tinkerbell by an actual woman, and Mr. Darling does not double as Captain Hook. This production has some truly spectacular elements, well worth seeing, but ultimately misses the magic that makes this a timeless tale.
Everybody knows the show must go on, but the same rule does not apply to final dress rehearsals, at least not Wednesday night, and there were times when that night off showed. Moving around the massive sets that make up Curtis Phillips’ brilliant set design was problematic, as was the lesser tech demand of tying a tie. More disconcerting was the problems with the sound system, which were as bad as anything I have heard to date on opening night at the Playhouse. But these are things that get ironed out for the most part by the second or third night.
The true culprit is the script, a “new version” by John Caird and Trevor Nunn, working from J.M. Barrie’s original play. The plot is enchanting and the characters memorable, but the first scene took too long to get to the arrival of Peter, and the final scene resonates with some obvious contemporary elements that I found unnecessary.
Jake Caceres gets the choice role of Captain Hook, but the speeches he gets to declaim just have no meat on the bone for the sort of scenery chewer you would expect. The most riveting character, upon whose every word we hang, is Tiger Lily (Lacy Habdas), and she is speaking in a unknown tongue, not to mention wearing a gorgeous costume accented with body paint.
No wonder they turned this into a musical.
The tale is told by a Story Teller (John Schmidt). It is one thing to have such a narrator providing expository details in “Into the Woods,” where the collision of fairy tales becomes rather confusing. But for a well-known and beloved tale such as “Peter Pan,” it is something decidedly different and definitely detrimental because it results in telling rather than showing, and the showing (or the seeing) is far and away the best part of this show.
From the moment Kyle McMillan flies through the bedroom window, he is Peter Pan, and along with Laura Grieme’s Wendy manage to maintain the illusion that they are not twice the age of their characters, giving director Robert Lee a pair of solid foundations on which to build. The Lost Boys and Pirates all stand out as unique, although the most impressive aspect Lee brought to this production was the transformation of the Indians into Aztecs. Going down South American way was absolutely inspired.
The audience liked the flying, of course, but also the silly stuff, which was pretty much anything Nathan Olsen did as Tootles and whenever Cookson (Kaitlyn Moser) insisted she was a man, but especially every line uttered by Mike Pederson as Smee, whose final farewell to his Captain was the best-written speech of the night. That being said, no one stole the show like the Crocodile (Neil Vaidyanathan), not even the beloved Nana (Scott Hebert).
Having Tinkerbell change from a dancing ball of light in the Darlings’ bedroom to a real actress in Neverland was not worth the tradeoff. Amber Burns is as cute as they come around here, but the biggest disappointment of the night was that we did not get to clap our hands for the most famous light cue in theater history.
That is where we should have embraced the magic.
Lawrance Bernabo has been accused of having the Peter Pan complex.
If you go
What: “Peter Pan or the Boy Who Would Not Grow Up …”
Where: Duluth Playhouse, 506 W. Michigan St.
When: 7:30 tonight and Saturday, and Dec. 11-14 and 18-21; 2 p.m. Sunday and Dec. 15 and 22.
Tickets: $25 adults, $15 students.
For information: (218) 733-7555 or duluthplayhouse.org