Sunday, August 4, 2013

Peter Pan, A Musical Adventure, Mercury Summer Stock

(The Lost Boys)

If you want to mount a show about Peter Pan, whether it’s the 1950’s version that Mary Martin made famous or this version written in the 1990’s, you have to love the idea of magic and fantasy.

And this production at Mercury Summer Stock, so visually arresting in many respects, has a firm grip on the magical idea of a flying fairy carting off three Earth-bond kids to Never Never Land.  Indeed, the final tableau of this show, with Peter raised high on shoulders against a lovely backdrop, is quite captivating.

But there are a number of air pockets in this supposedly soaring show, where this production experiences theatrical turbulence

The new tunes by George Stiles (music) and Anthony Drewe (lyrics) are pleasant and tuneful, but not particularly memorable. And the book by Willis Hall is quite matter-of-fact, without the flourishes of fresh humor that could help propel these characters on their most unusual journey.

Director and choreographer Pierre-Jacques Brault has added innovative touches, many of which work splendidly. Instead of actors swinging on cables, the flying Peter Pan and his Darling kids get air on the up-stretched arms of other actors, or ride piggy-back. This is not only cost-effective, it has the charm of children playing backyard games that resonates wonderfully with the material.

Also, Tinkerbelle is not a dot of light but a ballerina (Brittany Basenback) who leaps about with the aid of her dancing partner and embodies this fanciful creature in a whole new manner.

The uncredited set design features several white leafless trees that are stark and beautiful at times, accented by suspended lights that fade in and out. But at other moments, such as those on the pirate ship, the trees are just weirdly out of place (if kids were playing pirate ship, they’d likely not do it in a grove of trees).

The story progresses just as you would expect, from the Darling house to Never Never Land and then on to Captain Hook’s watery demise. Along the way, some of the songs and dances—particularly “There’s Something in the Air Tonight,” Mrs. Darling’s “Just Beyond the Stars” and the boyishly exuberant “The Lost Boys Gang” are definite winners.

In the title role, Brian Marshall sings his parts with the confidence of a seasoned performer. But his eternal boy is lacking the sense of fun and flashes of impish rascality that he needs. Indeed, Marshall often comes across as a fairly serious sophomore Accounting major, rather than a never-growing-up kid who can fly.

As Wendy, Kelly Monaghan delivers her songs with precision and conveys her confusion of being called upon to mother the Lost Boys when she wants a mother herself. At this performance, Dana Aber played Mrs. Darling (a part that is double cast) with plenty of heart.

Of course, the juiciest role in this show, regardless of the authors, is Mr. Darling and Captain Hook. Although he could go farther with his histrionics, Eric van Baars buckles his swash with spirit as Hook, and provides much of the comedy in a show that desperately needs more of the same.

One missing element is some physical representation of the ticking croc who swallowed Hook’s right arm (along with a clock) and that haunts and bedevils the Captain. Brault employs a phalanx of clocks at one point, and a single clock at others, to represent this menace. But it all falls pretty flat, unless you have chronomentrophobia (a fear of timepieces).

Smaller roles are handled well, including Dan DiCello as Hook’s right-hand-(you should excuse the term)-man Smee, and Dani Apple as Tiger Lily. The hard-working ensemble of pirates and Lost Boys add loads of singing and dancing energy.

This is a show that is often lovely to look at and listen to, but a slightly slow pace within scenes sucks a good deal of the energy from the proceedings. So that when the storyteller (a game Hester Lewellen) is finally identified, the impact is softer than it should be.

Still, the Mercury crew attacks big musicals like this with passion and youthful professionalism. And that amounts to a fine treat for any August day.

Peter Pan, A Musical Adventure
Through August 17 at Regina Hall, Notre Dame College, Green Road between Mayfield Road and Cedar Road in South Euclid, 216-771-5862.

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