Tuesday, June 19, 2001

Peter Pan

From the moment that Megan Houpt flies through the window of the Darling family nursery and onto the stage as Peter Pan, in the show of the same name currently being presented by Davis Musical Theatre Company, the audience sits up and takes notice. Houpt is wonderful as the boy who refused to grow up. She brings electricity to the role, and is able not only to walk and talk at the same time (and quite well), but also to sing and fly at the same time. She simply MAKES the production.

Peter Pan, closes DMTC’s 2001 season, and brings full circle 17 years of musical theatre in Davis. Seventeen years ago, Peter Pan was the first production done by this then-fledgling company, which now has 165 productions under its belt.

The current production is an example of DMTC at its best. Director Michael Miller, in his fourth production for the company, has assembled a very strong cast. In addition to Houpt, Rodger McDonald in the dual role of Mr. Darling (the father of Wendy, John and Michael), and Capt. Hook, the pirate out to get Peter Pan, is outstanding. He is a strong presence as Mr. Darling, but he excels as Hook, directing his pirate band in bumbling attempts to capture Pan, the Lost Boys, and the Indian Princess, Tiger Lily, yet terrified of the jaws of the crocodile who once ate the pirate’s hand and is always looking for a chance to finish the rest of the meal.

Michael Campbell as Smee, Hook’s right hand man, is very funny, as the delighted giggles from the youngsters in the audience will attest.

As the Darling children, Maggie Roesser (Wendy), Steven Garman (John) and Sarah Yablon (John) are wonderful. Roessner, in her DMTC debut, is a marvelous addition to the company. She and Houpt play well off each other. Yablon seems to be specializing in “pants” role early in her life. She was last seen as the young Tommy in “The Who’s Tommy.” She is adorable and completely convincing as a young teddy-bear toting young boy.

Vanessa Born is delightful to watch as Tiger Lily, particularly in the dance numbers, choreographed by Ron Cisneros. (Be advised that the Indian dialog is terribly dated and decidedly not politically correct. In an era where Disney Studios has refused to re–release “Song of the South” because of racial stereotypes, one questions the wisdom of bringing back this version of “Peter Pan”)

Others in the cast include Karen Day as Mrs. Darling and the grown up Wendy, Christina Day as Liza, Kelly Daniells as Jane, and enough actors of all ages as Lost Boys, Pirates, Indians, Trees, Animals and Shadow Dancers, to rival the Davis Children’s Nutcracker at the final curtain. There was some opening night nervousness and missed lines, but ones assumes that will improve through the run of the show.

Cisneros’ choreography is outstanding. Whether it’s Pirates dancing the tango or the tarantella or Indians doing what amounts to a close order drill, the dance numbers add immeasurably to the fun of the production.

Miller’s staging keeps the production moving at a fast clip, and also provides some stunning visual moments, such as one scene where the Indians are seated in a line across the top of a wall and down the steps, providing an notably artistic backdrop to the scene.

Costume design by Anna Johnson run the gamut from the plush red velvet of Hook’s costume through the rag-taggle clothes of the Lost Boys, to several animal suits. Nana, the nursemaid dog (played by Aaron Rogers) is wonderfully shaggy and huggable. Costumes for the lion (Scott Griffith), Ostrich (Heather Tinling), Kangaroo (Marc Valdez) and Bear (Wendy Young) are fun, though the ostrich bears a striking resemblance to a bald eagle. The best of the lot, however, is the crocodile. The marriage of costume and actor (Carrie Gifford) is reminiscent of the stage version of “The Lion King,” and both costumer and actor are to be congratulated.

Special mention should be given to Carrie Gifford, Ryan Gifford and Michael Miller, who are listed as “flight instructors.” Flying four actors around the stage at the same time can be a difficult and dangerous thing to do, but at least from the audience perspective, it all seemed to go off without problem. Miller has staged his flying sequences so that attaching and unattaching actors from the rigging is done as inconspicuously as possible (though it’s obviously not possible to entirely eliminate the sight of harnesses and cables)

Carol Callahan has created an imaginative set, which includes the Darling nursery, with a lovely brass bed for Wendy, and doghouse for Nana, and the Neverland forest, with cloth tree trunks which can be rolled up into the flies for a quick scene change to the pirate ship.

The small DMTC orchestra was again adequate in accompanying the production, but does make one wish for an orchestra pit.

When the Tinker Bell (clever use of a laser light) is in danger of dying, Peter Pan asks the audience to clap if they believe in fairies. The applause restores the fairy to life and all ends happily.

“Peter Pan” will make you believe in fairies. And in pirates, in Indians, and in little boys who never want to grow up.

Bring the kids and let yourself be transported back to Never-Never Land. It’s a trip that you will very much enjoy.