Fairies and actors are very similar. They need you to applaud them or believe in them or they’ll fade away and they make magic happen. Even flying!
So, it was appropriate that Director/Choreographer Roxie Quinn (and Tink) got the audience clapping before the curtains opened at Warner Theatre Stage Company’s “Peter Pan” to show them how to save injured fairies by believing.
It set the stage for a kid-friendly, interactive performance so that the audience knew what to do when the green light of Tinker Bell starts to die and Pan asks us if we believe in fairies.
If you’re looking for the Disney version of “Peter Pan” on stage, you might be disappointed because the theatrical version is very different in story line and music, sharing no songs. So, keep an open mind if you make it to the last matinee performance on Sunday.
After seeing “Mary Poppins” Friday night at the Thomaston Opera House, I was excited to see a second night of actors being flown across the stage. There’s nothing more magic than that. It’s a challenge that causes some theater groups to shy away from doing the musical.
Peter Pan (Erin Spector) entered with a leaping bound through the open window into the Darling household while sprinkling sparkly fairy dust. Spector was a natural in the air, gracefully extending her arms and legs as she was flown across the stage during several scenes from teaching the Darling children how to fly to a stage combat fight with Hook.
Wendy (Kristen VanDerlyn), John (Alexander Bilodeau), Michael (Gavin Anderson) and Wendy’s daughter, Jane (Emma Kane) are also flown, though with more jerky movements as they learn to fly for the first time. Kane had to carefully maneuver around a set window when she was flown into a starry sky with Pan on her exit toward the end.
Peter Pan is almost always played by a girl, dating back to English stage adaptations of the book in the early 1900s. Why a girl? According to slate.com, it’s because English law prohibited actors under 14 from working on stage after 9 p.m., so it became easier to cast a woman who could be made up to look like a young boy than to use a boy necessitating casting minors. Mary Martin carried on the tradition in the original Broadway cast. While Spector did not pass as a boy with her high-toned voice and soprano vibrato, she had a good look for Pan and was light on her feet to convey his youth.
VanDerlyn, though in high school, had a youthful face perfect for Wendy Darling and the maturity to step into a “mother” role for the Lost Boys. Her bluntness and honesty challenge Peter’s conceit and her adoration for him is priceless, especially when she asks for a kiss and Pan thinks she wants a button.
Hook’s (John Ozerhoski )pirate crew and Pan’s Lost Boys utilized the aisles for entrances and exits, not shying away from making eye contact with audience members or shaking hands. Having the pirates carry kicking and struggling Lost Boys and Darlings, most noticeably Michael, through the center aisle in the kidnapping scene brought the audience close to the action, drawing us in closer to the story than if that happened on stage.
I actually almost auditioned for “Peter Pan,” but decided to take a summer vacation away from theater after several back-to-back shows. So, as I watched I was thinking about how much fun it would have been to be a pirate. The adult ensemble made up the pirate squad with some featured pirates like Noodler (Geoff Ruckdeschel), Starkey (Conrad Sienkiewicz), Cecco (Rebecca Pokorski) and Jukes (Scott R. Murphy). They weren’t your run of the mill “argh” and “shiver me timbers” pirates. While they may have scared some of the Lost Boys, the pirates provided a lot of comic relief as befuddled, clumsy, whimsical and musically inclined scallywags.
Ozerhoski played Hook as a comical, flamboyant villain with insecurities that drive his vengefulness toward Pan as opposed to a simply sinister bad guy. He has more parallels with Gaston in “Beauty and the Beast” when he sings about how there is no better pirate swine than him. Smee (Richard McKenna ) is a dimwitted, fanboy, clown-like sidekick, much like Gaston’s LeFou.
The parents have a much larger role in the play. Ozerhoski also plays Mr. Darling, banishing Nana (Theron Johnson) outside and allowing Pan in without anyone guarding the children. Mrs. Darling (Christy Olson) is the first one to see Peter Pan and captures Pan’s shadow, leading to a very humorous scene as Spector flinches and grunts when Wendy tries to sew it back on. She has a pivotal role toward the end regarding the fate of the Lost Boys.
Some of my favorite characters were ones that didn’t speak, including Nana the dog nurse, the crocodile that swallowed the clock that menaces Hook and a ballerina ostrich, all done with actors in costume. The crocodile’s slow stalk across the stage and Nana’s spontaneous wiggles and barks made me laugh in a good way.
The “Indian ensemble,” led by Tiger Lilly (Lida Currier), is completely female, unlike the Disney movie that has male leadership. The dancers (Olivia Benson, Lauren Brown, Megan Dreher, Kelsey Morris and Lia Wallace) communicate through movement and chants.
Peter Pan refuses to go back to the real world because he never wants to grow up or age, it leaves you wondering if he gets a happy ending by himself. While he devotes his time to teaching the Lost Boys and the Darlings about the importance of staying children and not needing parents, he inadvertently heightens the Darlings’ understanding that you have to grow up eventually.
But why abandon your childhood spirit? We could all use a sprinkling of fairy dust to lift us up and keep the magic alive.
“Peter Pan” is a three-act play with an intermission after the first act.
Your last chance to see the show is Sunday at 2 p.m. More information on the show and buying tickets is available on the Warner Theatre’s website. The theater is located on 68 Main Street in Torrington.