Peter Pan is a delight

by David Dixon

It’s been more than 100 years since the first appearance of Peter Pan, yet children and their parents are still familiar with the tale about Neverland. Now, Margaret Larlham has directed a fresh version of “Peter Pan & Wendy” that’s very true to the original story, though it has some unique twists of its own.

Wendy (Allison Boettcher) is an English girl who is the oldest of three children including her younger brothers, John (Erika Appel) and Michael (Kourtney Smith). They all meet Peter Pan (Krista Feallock), a young magical lad who takes the kids to Neverland, which is an enchanting but dangerous place full of mermaids and evil pirates led by the one handed Captain James Hook (Ryan Sandvick).

This production was apparently a risky one, and cost more to produce than the average San Diego State theatrical experience. Fortunately, the gamble paid off and there is no shortage of visual panache.

Several of the characters, including John, Michael and Tinkerbell (Hali Erickson) are portrayed with the use of puppets. It does take a few seconds to get used to seeing these popular roles in such an unusual way, but this aspect ends up working well because the performers are able to add emotion and energy with strong vocal acting and some memorable physical choices to give the puppets some personality.

Another aspect that immediately stands out is the modern rock music incorporated in “Peter Pan and Wendy.” Composed by Thomas Hodges and led by vocalist Tiger Lily (Chanel Lucia), the songs add to the energetic tone of the evening, while also staying true to the spirit of J.M. Barrie’s classic world.

Feallock gives a very likeable performance as Peter whose generally positive and offbeat attitude reminded me a little bit of young Ellie from “Up.” It is not easy to make such an unusual person believable, but she is able to do so with confident timing while having a blast on stage.

Everyone else is perfectly cast, from Boettcher’s wise beyond her years take on Wendy, to Sandvick’s paranoid and goofy portrayal of Hook. However, the people that nearly steal the show are Levi Padilla and Taylor Richardson as Peter’s Flying Dark shadows. The two take part in some memorable stunts that won’t be spoiled in this review.

An unexpected twist in “Peter Pan & Wendy” are the conflicts that Larlham emphasizes. Unlike some other interpretations, the main drama isn’t between Peter and Hook, which is mostly played for comedic relief. Instead, the primary tension comes from the impermanence of Wendy, John and Michael’s stay in Neverland. They must grapple with the fact they may have to stop living in a fantasy and and learn to go back to the real world and grow up. This theme leads to some intimate moments that are even more intense than the famous near death of Tinkerbell, though the very enthusiastic opening night audience clapped their hands like their lives depended on it, when asked to do so.

Larlham is now responsible for another successful, family friendly production that ends the fall semester with a bang. There is plenty to appeal to both the young and the young at heart.

Tickets and information on “Peter Pan and Wendy” can be found at theatre.sdsu.edu.

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