Peter Pan is off and flying and Captain Hook once more flourishes his dangerous appendage at The Rose in the musical version of James M. Barrie’s iconic story.
This production has plenty of pluses, Sherri Geerdes’s wonderful costumes, Tim McMath’s great-looking sets, an excellent orchestra led by Jerry Brabec and some dynamic choreography from Sue Gillespie Booton. The songs by Mark “Moose” Charlap, Carolyn Leigh, Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green were skillfully sung by many members of the cast on the preview evening. And director Amy Lane kept the action moving along colorfully.
Standing out marvelously twice, the young-woman ensemble as characters collectively called Pounce lit up the stage with dynamic appeal in Boonton’s infectious rhythm -pulsing numbers featuring their spears, their stomping boots and Ben Samson’s percussion. Additionally, Tylie Tingelhoff and Sarah Gibson as Wendy and Mrs. Darling had excellent voices making the best of their songs especially in a beautiful duet version of “Distant Melody.”
Clearly some things still needed work. Danny Denenberg’s Peter in particular. The 14-year-old actor, previously impressively appealing in roles at The Rose (A Christmas Story) and The Playhouse (Caroline or Change) looked as if he hadn’t yet found the way to do this one. Before, he’d played serious, more or less contemporary kids. Peter is different and lives in a another time and place. He’s foolishly boastful, something of a smartaleck, a trickster, often a child-like innocent and physically full of spunk. The role in this musical has famously been played by adult, androgynous-looking women, where suspension of disbelief is a given. So when Peter is actually played by a boy around the same age, those more complex dimensions may not come easily. Denenberg’s Peter often felt incompletely defined; he also seemed quite uncomfortable in his flying rig.
Alban Roblan’s Hook likewise resembled a work in progress. His polished take on Mr. Darling worked well, but Roblan appeared to not yet having found the key to Hook’s cartoonish silliness. Mostly he just played it broadly. Neither he nor Denenberg sounded all that sturdy in their singing either.
Annlynn Casey as Nana, the large dog who’s the guardian for the Darling family children, was up on two human-like like legs often, diminishing the fantasy. Maybe Casey wasn’t much on her knees so as to save the elaborate costume. Whatever the reason, she looked amateurish.
Among other problems that evening, the harnesses used to suspend and fly characters were painfully visible on the backs, making the performers resemble people on an amusement park ride even if the performers sometimes moved gracefully.
Without delving into questionable plot undertones, the latest version has been politically corrected. Early 20th century Barrie naïvely inserted characters called Indians into a presumably Caribbean-like Neverland where nasty British pirates roam. Peter, the Darling family and The Lost Boys may be English. That works. But Indians? What was Sir James thinking? Moreover, the musical comes from the still innocent 1950s. Our time’s resolution: give these armed natives the name “Pounce.” An interesting fantasy choice. .
That ensemble’s performances were among the well-realized parts of the production. Geerdes has their otherworld clothes match the outfit of their leader Tiger Lily in an imaginative array of colors in striped variations. The costume for Mr. Darling has class equal to Roblan’s interpretation.
Tim McMath has come up with an equally clever fantasy concept in his principal Neverland set, with giant cartoon-like plants. Further, he inventively designed the deck of Hook’s ship as well as the elegant bedroom for the Darling children. Assisted by lighting designer Craig S. Moxon, McMath’s starry sky and London rooftops glow with magic. The constant changes of scenes looked like quite a challenge; they went off rather well.
Brabec’s nine-member orchestra always sounded good. The program, alas, does not identify the arranger.
But then, of course, it also says nothing about the creators of the show other than giving their names. The story from Scottish novelist and playwright James M. Barrie had Peter materialized in a 1902 adult novel before the boy became the center of the 1904 play as Peter Pan,or The Boy Who Wouldn”t Grow Up.
Adapter Jerome Robbins became world-renowned as a choreographer of ballets as well as a director and choreographer in theater, movies and television. His Broadway shows include West Side Story, The King and I and Fiddler on the Roof. He won two Academy Awards for the film version of West Side Story, four Tonys, two Emmys, a Screen Directors’ Guild Award, and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. http://jeromerobbins.org/
Mark “Moose” Charlap, who provided most of the music, was a successful writer of popular songs as was principal lyric contributor Carolyn Leigh. She came up with ” Witchcraft, “The Best is Yet to Come” and “Young at Heart” and wrote lyrics for the musicals Wildcat, Little Me, and .How Now Dow Jones. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moose_Charlap. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carolyn_Leigh
Jule Styne was a major Broadway show composer best known for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Bells are Ringing, Gypsy, Funny Girl and Hallelujah Baby. Comden and Green made names for themselves in Hollywood with Singin’ In the Rain and The Band Wagon. Stage-wise: On the Town, Wonderful Town, Applause, The Will Rogers Follies. They worked with Styne on two of these. http://www.julestyne.com/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betty_Comden. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolph_Green
Some of the original show’s songs and dialogue have been cut for these performances. Running time at the preview, including a long intermission, was certainly shorter than two hours.
Peter and his story never grow old. Grown-ups witnessing this flight might hold hands with children and think lovely thoughts. And marvel at what succeeds.
Peter Pan runs through June 16, The Rose Theater, 2001 Farnam St. Fri.: 7 p.m. Sat. & Sun: 2 p.m. Tickets: $22-$27. http://www.rosetheater.org