CENTERVILLE — “I Won’t Grow Up.” That song title (and its playful lyrics) perfectly encapsulate’s Peter Pan, the latest musical production at CenterPoint Legacy Theatre. This story of the boy who wouldn’t grow up is a visually beautiful and at times emotionally touching that can appeal to children of all ages—and to adults who never fully grew up.
In a break from tradition, Peter Pan in this production is played a by a male actor, Colton Ward, who attacked the role with enthusiasm in every scene. Ward had boundless energy that breathed life into many of his songs (such as “I Gotta Crow” and “I Won’t Grow Up,”) that would normally be limited by their lack of musical originality. Ward also had great interactions with his Wendy, Lindsay Blackman. Their meeting scene was fun, and with just enough emotion to make me believe that the two would play house together later in the play. I wish, though, that Ward had given Peter Pan more innocence. This is, after all, a boy who doesn’t know what a kiss is, and I felt that Ward’s portrayal had little of the childlike whimsy that the character is famous for. Blackman was sweet in the play, and the way she made Wendy care for the Lost Boys was endearing. All of Blackman’s work on making a lovable character paid off in the final scene, which was both satisfying and full of longing.
Among the supporting cast my favorites included Jennie Richardson as Mrs. Darling; Richardson’s character had the perfect balance of warmth and late Victorian distance. Breann Johnson was irresistible as Tiger Lily as she executed the dances well and served as an effective leader of the other Indians. However, the best supporting cast member was Chuck Gilmore, who doubled as Captain Hook and Mr. Darling. Gilmore was pleasant as the Darling family patriarch, and the character seemed to have some genuine affection for the children. (Otherwise, why would he keep a dog in the house?) However, Gilmore was best as the evil Captain Hook, and his performance in Hook’s songs (like the waltz and the tango) was the highlight of the entire play. Gilmore also committed fully to the silliness of the role without a hint of irony or embarrassment.
However, it’s that same silliness that is the weakest part of the play. Director Jim Christian created a band of slapstick pirates that lacked any menacing qualities. Although this was effective at getting laughs from the audience, it robbed the play of any tension because there was never any question of who was going to win in a faceoff between Captain Hook’s pirates and Peter Pan’s lost boys. I’ve complained about purely comic antagonists before, and I never understand why a director would want the “bad guy” to not be intimidating.
Yet, I must acknowledge that Christian’s directing is also the key element that makes Peter Pan work. The James M. Barrie script and the score by Carolyn Leigh, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green (lyrics) and Mark Charlap and Jule Styne (music) have not aged well. Christian’s swift pacing smoothed over the pedantic dialogue of the first act and made the entire show fly by—no pun intended. (If it weren’t for the two intermissions, the show would run under 2 hours.) Christian also created a strong contrast between the real world of the Darling children and the fantastical Never Never Land, and it invited me to shed my practical, adult cynicism and immerse myself in the world of live theatre.
Like the direction, I feel mixed about the movement in this production of Peter Pan. I enjoyed Jessica Merrill‘s choreography, especially for the Indian dances. “Ugh-A-Wug” was the funnest song of the evening, and I attribute my enjoyment of the piece to Merrill’s charming dance. On the other hand, the fight choreography in the battle on the ship was very tame and looked both phony and dull.
In contrast, I loved every technical aspect of this production. Wendy Nagao and Tammis Boam‘s costumes in Never Never Land captured the fantastical nature of the place, especially in Peter Pan’s foliage-inspired apparel. I also liked the spangles on Captain Hook’s costume, which emphasized the imagination and whimsy that permeated the story. Scott VanDyke‘s imposing set was innovative in the way that it permitted cast members to hide, enter, and exit in surprising ways. Plus, the sets were gorgeous, ranging from the impeccably wallpapered Darling home to the lush forest pieces in Never Never Land. Finally, the lighting design by Mark Rencher was warm and inviting in every scene. Rencher clearly worked with the lighting and costume designers to create a visual style that fit the playful mood of Peter Pan.
This was my first visit to CenterPoint Legacy Theatre, and it was, on the whole, a very pleasant one. Audience members can buy a ticket to Peter Pan with a guarantee for a nice evening full of heart, spectacle, and charm.