Spoiler alert: Peter Pan is not a true story. In fact, it is one of the most make believe-fantasies to ever grace the stage. With its sparkling production, technical excellence and a talented, multi-cultural young cast, Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre is the venue for the national tour launch of this re-imagined and newly adapted musical version of the classic story.
I’m almost embarrassed to admit my first encounter with Peter Pan was, as a little kid, watching the fairy tale on my family’s black and white console TV (it was televised in color, however) back when there were only four known planets. My recollection of that experience besides the fun songs and exciting story was my confusion as to why the character Peter Pan was played by a woman, Mary Martin.
Ms. Martin also starred in the 1954 Broadway production and received a Tony Award for her performance as Peter. She was succeeded in revivals by Sandy Duncan and Cathy Rigby as well as other women on a number of tours. Alas, my parents were unable to offer clarity to a situation where gender roles had been so clearly defined back then and why Ms. Martin played Peter.
However, this dazzling touring production debuts a bright and talented young man Nolan Almeida, 17, as Peter Pan. He handles the physically demanding role with aplomb and tons of enthusiasm. The charismatic Mr. Almeida is an excellent vocalist, dances proficiently including tap dancing with gracefulness not ordinarily seen in a teenager and excels in the superb flying sequences with somersault flips.
The musical is based on J.M. Barrie’s 1904 play Peter Pan and his 1911 novelization of it, Peter and Wendy, whose main storyline depicts Peter Pan as a boy who never wants to grow up. The music is mostly by Moose Charlap, with additional music by Jule Styne, and most of the lyrics were written by Carolyn Leigh, with additional lyrics by the potent duo Betty Comden and Adolph Green.The additional book was penned by Tony Award winning playwright Larissa FastHorse, who.
importantly, scrubbed the original material of the offensive stereotypical portrayal of indigenous people and women. She is the first Native American female playwright to have been produced on Broadway. With her influence, several characters including Tiger Lilly are played by indigenous peoples in the production.
Still, under the direction of Emmy Award winner Lonny Price and choreography by Lorin Lotarro, Peter Pan stays true to the widely familiar story and pleasing music. Familiar favorites, such as “I Gotta Crow,” Neverland,” “I’m Flying,” which is an incredibly striking and well-choreographed aerial number with sterling special effects, the iconic “I Won’t Grow Up,” the main theme of the story, “Hook’s Tango,” the moving “When I Went Home,” and the gentle “Tender Shepherd” highlight the musical. The excellent orchestra was conducted by Jonathan Marro for this reviewed performance.
For those not familiar, Peter Pan along with his mischievous fairy sidekick Tinker Bell enters the bedroom of Wendy, Michael and John Darling in search of his lost shadow. Wendy helps to sew it back on him, and the smaller boys awaken to the visitor’s presence. He tells of Neverland, an island where he is from and where there are “Lost Boys” who are in need of stories to hear and also in need of a mother.
Peter demonstrates his flying prowess and immediately teaches the children how to fly as long as they think lovely thoughts. A sprinkle of fairy dust dropped on them by Peter completes the task. With absolutely jaw-dropping technical effects, brilliant projections, imaginative lighting and theatre magic, Peter and the Darling children embark on an adventurous journey to Neverland. There they encounter a tribe of extinct indigenous people representing cultures from around the world led by Tiger Lily. The “Lost Boys” are there, of course, and there is also the evil Captain Hook and his pirate crew.
Amid sword fights, flying sequences, and clever maneuvering, Peter Pan and the Darling children, team up with Tiger Lily and her tribe to eventually vanquish Captain Hook.
Through these adventures, the Darling children are taught valuable lessons and appear to grow up. But Peter is loath to growing up. However, years down the road, Wendy’s young daughter Jane will join Peter in a trek back to Neverland.
As mentioned before, Nolan Almeida soars as Peter Pan, literally and figuratively. Perfectly cast for the role, Mr. Almeida showcases is abundance of talent in dancing, singing and acting. His vocals shine in such varied numbers as “I Gotta Crow,” “Neverland,” the sensational group number with the Darling children “I’m Flying” as well as “When I Went Home.” Unquestionably, Mr. Almeida has a bright future in theatre. His present isn’t so bad either.
Hawa Kamara is making her professional debut in playing the part of Wendy Darling. Her acting skills are excellent with her timing, use of facial expressions and body language. Mature and caring, Wendy is as likeable as one can be, and Ms. Kamara’s performance, especially her exchanges with Peter at the outset, brings that to the fore.
On the night this performance was reviewed, William Foon and Reed Epley were wonderful as John and Michael Darling, respectively. They, too, sing and dance well and can handle a sword when called upon.
The villain is Captain Hook, and that role is adeptly played by Cody Garcia. Evil and sadistic, Captain Hook can be seen as comical by adults but frightening by children. Cody (who also plays Mr. Darling) has that stereotypical pirate look of being tall, slender, mustachioed and swashbuckling. Cody carries it off perfectly with the right amount of flair, and sings well in “Hook’s Tango,” “Hook’s Tarantella” and Hook’s Waltz.”
Captain Hook’s flamboyant devoted sidekick Smee, played deliciously by Kurt Perry, provides much of the comedy in the show with his campy rejoinders. Mr. Perry hits it out of the park.
As the generous but commanding Tiger Lily, Raye Zaragoza turns in a splendid performance. Her strong vocals are on display in the group number “Friends Forever,” which features glorious dancing from the entire Company including a fast-paced tap segment to close out the first act.
The remainder of the cast including the Pirates, Lost Boys and the Tribe all contribute to this fantastic production.
[a]"sparkling production, technical excellence and a talented, multi-cultural young cast..."
Anna Louizos’ brilliantly designed set adds much beauty to the production. The scenes at Neverland with its lush flora that serve as a hideout for the “Lost Boys” are gorgeous.
David Bengali’s projections are eye-popping and nothing short of spectacular. The “I’m Flying” number midway through the first act is breathtaking and worth the price of admission. And a spotlight should shine on Paul Kieve for the creative “Tinker Bell” design, which is exceptional.
Amith Chandrashaker is on point with his rich and effective lighting design. Kai Harada should get applause not only for the quality of the sound but the impressive sound effects throughout the production.
The astonishing fight scenes are directed by Rick Sordelet and Christian Kelly-Sordelet with music and dance arrangements by David Dabbon.
And Sarafina Bush’s stunning costume design makes it a lot easier to imagine what went on in Neverland.
Peter Pan is a high-flying musical that melds an wealth of talent, a solid score and creativity. I, for one, never wanted to grow up and didn’t. This is a must-see show for all ages whether you have grown up or not.
Running time. Two hours and 15 minutes with an intermission.
Peter Pan runs through February 25 the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201. For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-ARTS or visit ticketmaster.com or BaltimoreHippodrome.com.
Photos: Matthew Murphy