Theatre Cedar Rapids — through May 28
The fairy dust does its job in the Theatre Cedar Rapids production of the musical version of Peter Pan (music by Morris “Moose” Charlap, lyrics by Carolyn Leigh). Under the direction of Leslie Charipar, with musical direction by Benjamin Lee Schmidt and choreography by Alvon Reed, the cast takes flight for a fun-filled romp in Neverland. My soon-to-be 12-year-old daughter and I thoroughly enjoyed the May 6 performance.
No production of the show can succeed without an excellent performer in the title role, and TCR found the perfect actor in the person of Sophie Lindwall, an eighth grader who embodies Peter with panache. Lindwall sings beautifully and captures Peter’s combination of pluck, pride and naivety. She owns each of her key moments, whether delivering a song or engaging a pirate in swordplay.
Nikki Stewart is equally strong as Wendy Darling, the oldest of the three children who accompany Peter to Neverland. Stewart, a young, versatile performer who is already a TCR veteran, sings and dances with energy and grace. Her Wendy shyly pursues Peter’s romantic attention while herding the gaggle of Lost Boys around the stage. Given the young ages of some of the performers, that herding is likely more than just acting.
Speaking of youngsters, Charlie Sanchez-Masi, a kindergartner, is delightful as little Michael Darling. He gives as good as he gets in a funny exchange with Brett Borden, playing Mr. Darling, in the show’s opening scene, and his excitement when he first soars into the air is beamed straight into the hearts of the audience.
The flying scenes are, without doubt, a highlight of the production. Peter’s initial arrival is stunning, and all three Darling children — Stewart, Sanchez-Masi and the underutilized Maclain Ray as John Darling — sell the flying with wide-eyed giddiness. Sure, you can see the apparatus that makes the flight possible, but it doesn’t matter a bit.
Scott Humeston is delicious as Captain Hook, a villain both menacing and ridiculous. Meanwhile, Jay Burken’s Smee seems as smitten with Hook as Wendy is with Peter.
The ensemble highlight of the production is “I Won’t Grow Up” late in the first act. The Lost Boys, led by Peter, promise to defy the usual way of the world. The ragtag gang nails the choreography and the vocals in one of the show’s most appealing scenes.
The musical’s final scene, in which Peter returns and encounters Wendy all grown up, could be played with a lighter touch. Wistfulness would work well here, but Lindwall and Stewart deliver the scene as though we’ve reached the end of a tragedy. Happily, Teressa Laubach’s joyful turn as Jane, Wendy’s daughter, saves the closing moments of the show.
The show’s technical aspects — Derek Easton’s clever set, Joni Sackett’s costumes, Amanda L. Mayfield’s lighting design and Ben Cyr’s sound design — are all excellent, though at times the light representing Tinker Bell is hard to follow or lands in an odd place. Schmidt’s orchestra is good throughout, particularly on the upbeat numbers.
While Peter Pan is enjoyable from beginning to end, it should be noted that Tiger Lily’s gang, a group of Indians who are sometimes adversaries and sometimes allies of the Lost Boys, is somewhat problematic. Given that J.M. Barrie created Peter Pan in the early 20th century and the legendary Jerome Robbins directed and choreographed the musical in 1954, a stereotypical portrayal of “Indians” is perhaps to be expected. To Charipar and Reed’s credit, the song the “Indian Dance” is not rife with the faux mannerisms often ascribed to Indians. Further, the song “Ugg-a-Wugg” and some questionable dialogue have been cut entirely.
Nevertheless, a case could be made that Tiger Lily’s gang need not be Indians at all. That said, it could also be argued that changing the underlying conceit of the story — the fantasies of a little boy, which include pirates, inscrutable Indians and the like — would be to betray the source material. It’s a thorny problem that adheres to many classics of the stage.
This issue aside, Peter Pan offers much to love for children and those who have had to grow up alike.
Peter Pan continues through May 28, with shows on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and on Sundays at 2:30 p.m., along with a special earlier (6:30 p.m.) performance on Thursday, May 18. Tickets: 319-366-8591 or theatrecr.org.