PETER PAN: THE MUSICAL
Royal City Musical Theatre
Bell Performing Arts Centre, Surrey
April 20-May 7
$27 - $37
Peter Pan is one of the best loved and most durable stories in the English language. Its dreamlike fantasies of eternal youth, flying, and parenthood without tears have made James M. Barrie’s Edwardian play as much of a staple for adults as for kids. Peter and Tink, Wendy and John, Captain Hook and the ticking crocodile are part of the cultural air we breathe. And since the 1954 Broadway production with Mary Martin as Peter, rigged for Flying by Foy, Peter Pan has been a mainstay of the musical theatre.
Director Lloyd Nicholson endows Peter Pan: The Musical with Royal City Musical Theatre’s usual spectacular production values. In Surrey’s expansive Bell Centre with its comfortable seats and sterling acoustics, James Bryson’s great-sounding 22-piece orchestra accompanies an accomplished young cast of 30, led by Amy Wallis as Peter and James Fagan Tait as Hook, on J.C. Olivier’s deliciously colourful set.
Especially considering that these are mostly “amateurs,” there’s not a weak link in the cast. The two pros are very fine. Wallis, who goes to Charlottetown after this to play the title role in Anne of Green Gables, is a dynamic presence with a strong voice, and Tait has mastered the comic snarl. Kazumi Evans does a terrific job as Wendy. I’d like to have heard more of her lovely voice. And Katie Murphy’s balletic, acrobatic Tiger Lily nearly steals the show.
In fact all these kids can act and—thank goodness—sing and dance: Peter’s Lost Boys, Hook’s pirates, Tiger Lily’s Indians, as well as John and Michael and Mrs. Darling. The big production numbers in Neverland—Peter and the Lost Boys singing “I Won’t Grow Up” and tangling with the Indians—are delightfully choreographed by Valerie Easton. The pirates’ wicked tango and tarantella are loads of fun. And it’s still thrilling when Peter comes flying through the Darlings’ nursery window or soars out over the audience.
But when the characters aren’t singing or dancing or flying, everyone seems a little lost. The short first act in the Darling nursery with Nana the dog feels rushed so that we get little of the flavour of that absurd household. The crowd scenes in Neverland, the fights, and Hook’s confrontations with his nemesis, the crocodile, are sloppily staged. Hook’s explosive demise, which should be the climax of the show, is badly timed and poorly focused.
And though the production numbers with the Indians are the most exciting moments in the show, the 1950s racist stereotyping is embarrassing. It’s long past time to put all that “ugh a wug a” stuff to rest for good.