Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Also see Bill's review of Colored Lights: KT Sullivan
Manatee Players has put forward a very strong cast with a wonderful Peter at the center, Anna Trinci, who a few months ago made her Manatee Players debut as Cosette in Les Misérables. She is a wonderful actress bringing out Peter's childishness and spunk while still allowing us to see an undercurrent of insecurity. Her acting is only bettered by her singing and dancing both in the air and on the ground. She does flips while flying and I do believe that she is having the time of her life in the air. Her performance is strong enough to be compared favorably to the best of the Peters that I have seen, my favorite of which was Tovah Feldshuh at North Shore Music Theater around 1979 or 1980.
Greg Wiegers in the dual role of Mr. Darling and Captain Hook is fine, emphasizing the comic rather than the fearsome villain, hard not to do in this version. Wendy Brown is strongly maternal as Mrs. Darling, not surprising since John and Michael are played by her real life children, Garrett and Levi. At other performances John and Michael are played by Stevie Romero and Atticus Pratt. The Darling family is rounded out by Zoe Verbil as Wendy who excels in the second act as Wendy becomes mother to the Lost Boys, dancing to the song "Wendy" ("lets be quiet as a mouse and build a lovely little house for Wendy"). The large ensemble of lost boys, pirates and Indians all dance well, the lively choreography of Geena Ravella being one of the production's glories. The Indians are led by Holly Rizzo as Tiger Lilly, strongly leading the dancing in several numbers including "Ugg-a-Wugg." This young lady has been seen recently as Kim in Miss Saigon and Eponine in Les Misérables, but proves that there is life on stage for her beyond Boublil and Schönberg. She appears to be a star in the making. Scott Vitale as Smee, Captain Hook's comic foil, makes quite a lot of a part that is usually a throw away. Not since the original cast performance of Joe E. Marks, a respected supporting player in musicals of the late 1940s and 1950s have I seen the part so well played.
The production is directed by new father Steve Dawson, a favorite local leading man who himself might make a sensational Captain Hook. He proves to be as fine a director as he is musical comedy star. He directs for the comedy in the show, but allows the serious underbelly (the Lost Boys having no parents) its due. The only weaknesses are a few scenes played before the number one traveler curtain as a cover for scene changes. Some of them were just a bit awkward. Dawson has pulled strong performances from his cast and keeps the entire two-plus hours lively. It was delightful to see lots of scrubbed young faces in the audience, probably making their first trip to a live play, at the Sunday Matinee that I attended. A young lady and her younger brother were seated next to me, and they were wonderfully well behaved. I was delighted to see the young lady leaning forward in her seat, so enraptured by the performance. This is how new audiences are developed for live theater.
Every technical element of this production is strong. Projections by Marc Lalosh that drop us into the 19th century London setting through aerial photographs then fly us through banks and banks of clouds on our trip to and from Neverland are a fine example of how to use technology to enhance rather than overwhelm. Costumes by David W. Walker are highly effective, and the scenery by Donna Buckalter has a whimsical feel, certainly in keeping with the tone of the story. Lighting by Joseph P. Oshry is up to his usual high standards. In the orchestra pit there are only two musicians, Michelle Neal controlling a recorded rendering of the score from a keyboard and Paul Henry on percussion. In a conversation with the Artistic Director of the Manatee Players, Rick Kerby, I was assured that Ms. Neal has some control of the tempos. I am opposed to the use of recorded orchestral parts in theory, but honestly, I rather enjoyed the richness of the sound as opposed to maybe six live musicians which can sound thin. Let's say that the musical accompaniment for this production is effective. Sound design by Tom Sell is excellent, finally getting the bugs out of the sound system that played havoc with recent productions of Young Frankenstein. I am hoping for future shows to stay on this quality level. Flying effects by Hall Associates are excellent. Adults quickly forgot that they could see the wires and I don't think the younger set even noticed much.
Manatee Player's version of Peter Pan is about as wonderful a holiday present as a musical comedy lover could wish for.
Manatee Players presents Peter Pan at Manatee Center for the Performing Arts through December 22, 2013, at 502 3rd Ave W., Bradenton; 941 748-0111, manateeplayers.com.
Cast (In Order of Appearance)
Directed by Steve Dawson