By Jori Waldron
The story of Peter Pan is more than 100 years old, yet it still delights readers and audiences as its messages hold true.
Currently, Chicago Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier is putting a new spin on this classic with its children’s production of Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure. This updated version by Elliot Davis based on the book by Willis Hall, with music by George Stiles and
lyrics by Anthony Drewe puts the plot to the familiar tale set to tunes different from those made famous by the Disney movie created in 1953.
The story focuses on Peter Pan, the boy who doesn’t want to grow up as he goes on adventures with his fairy friend Tinker Bell and returns home to Neverland and the other orphan boys he rescued, the Lost Boys. One night Peter flies into the home of Wendy, John and Michael, teaches them to fly and brings them with him for a visit to Neverland while avoiding the pirates led by Captain Hook. For a more detailed plot summary, click here.
Most important to every musical theatre production, the caliber of singing in the production is top-notch. Peter Pan, played by Johnny Shea, whose strong tenor sound carries songs, such as “The Cleverness of Me” is an impish young man with crazy bed-head hair wearing leaves who leads this talented cast well. His duets with Wendy (Elizabeth Stenholt), including “One Big Adventure” are especially lovely. The Lost Boys (Colin Lawrence, Travis Austin Wright, Michael Kurowski and John Marshall, Jr.) add spirit and most of the dancing to the performance. The pirate band led by Captain Hook (James Konicek) add most of the humor and steal the show.
This production’s technical aspects transport the audience from the Darling house with its three large windows with screens behind them to project what lies outside to the Captain’s ship with its trapdoor, useful when one needs to walk the plank. Especially enjoyably transfixing is the small ball of light representing Tinker Bell flit about the stage, landing in people’s hands or hair. Of course, also included is the famous flying of Peter Pan, Wendy, John and Michael, allowing these characters to soar beyond the thrust stage over the audience and into Neverland.
Nana (Jonathan Butler-Duplessis), the Darlings’ dog, adds a dose of welcome physical comedy, likely appreciated most by the older patrons. Wendy ‘s explanation to Peter that growing up is a not-to-be-missed adventure in itself, shows the importance of mothering and having someone to love and care for you. These messages are beautifully expressed but likely fly over the heads of the very young, just as Peter soars above them. With a run-time of nearly 90 minutes without intermission, this is a piece of theatre most suited to children ages six and up.
Well directed and choreographed by Amber Mak and ever enchanting, this production is definitely one that people who love the story and characters in Peter Pan should not miss.
Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents “Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure” through August 19 at the Courtyard Theater on Navy Pier, Chicago. More information and tickets are available here.