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Cincinnati by Scott Cain


Peter Pan
Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music


The Cast
It seems that all things Peter Pan-related are currently the rage. We had NBC's live broadcast of the musical just a few months ago, and upcoming is the film Pan (showing the origins of how Peter came to Neverland). The new Broadway musical Finding Neverland, chronicling J.M. Barrie's inspiration to write the original story, begins performances this month. Locally, Cincinnati Ballet just performed their version in the fall, and Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park is now presenting Peter and the Starcatcher, a play also providing a backstory for Peter Pan. Finally, there are multiple productions of the well-known musical taking place this month, and among those is the current Mainstage production by the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) Musical Theater Program. CCM's mounting boasts brilliant design elements, inventive direction, and a talented cast.

This Peter Pan is one of several musical versions of the original J.M. Barrie 1904 play. The familiar story follows the adventures of Peter, a boy who doesn't want to grow up (and never will while living in Neverland) and has the ability to fly, thanks to fairy dust (from his pal Tinkerbell). Peter visits a girl named Wendy and her two brothers Michael and John. He convinces them to come with him to Neverland. While there, Peter introduces the trio to his friends, the Lost Boys, and they also have run-ins with Indians and pirates, led by the dangerous Captain Hook. This adaptation premiered on Broadway in 1954 and has had a number of subsequent stage mountings and TV broadcasts.

The musical Peter Pan doesn't really credit a book writer, rather stating that it is a musical version of the play by Sir James Barrie, but it was adapted for the stage by Jerome Robbins. The story is fun, imaginative, and ever changing, which keeps the typically young theatergoers engaged. The score is a combination of material by two different songwriting teams. Mark "Moose" Charlap (music) and Carolyn Leigh (lyrics) initially provided songs, but before the original premiere, additional tunes were added by Jule Styne (music) and Betty Comden and Adolph Green (lyrics). The different composers and styles give the show a variety of sound, including jaunty energy songs, lullabies, operetta-style ballads, dance interludes, and fun character numbers. The score overall is solid, but not spectacular, with the best songs being "Neverland" by Styne/Condem/Green, and "I'm Flying," "Tender Shepard," and the playful "I Won't Grow Up" by Charlap and Leigh.

The leading role of Peter has been double-cast at CCM, with Clara Cox being reviewed here from the Friday evening performance. Ms. Cox provides well-suited, full throated vocals, and convincingly captures the spunk and boyish impetuousness of the character. The show is in good hands with Cox front and center. As Mr. Darling and Captain Hook, Nathaniel Irvin displays strong and rich singing, a commanding stage presence, and an eccentric flamboyance that works well for Hook and this production. DJ Plunkett (Michael) and Elliot Styles (John) may appear to be physically too grown up to pass for children, but they do an admirable job all around. Alison Bagli is an endearing Wendy as well, but this production really puts strong emphasis on the inhabitants of Neverland, so the Darling children roles seem smaller as a result. Special kudos go to Samantha Pollino (Tiger Lily), Kameron Richardson (Lion), Taylor Alexander (Kangaroo), Kimberly Pine (Ostrich), and Kyra Christopher (Liza) for their athletic and captivating dancing. The entire cast does a wonderful job executing the show, with committed characterizations, splendid dancing, and great vocals.

As good as this CCM cast is, and it is very good, what sets this Peter Plan apart is the direction, choreography, and design. Director/choreographer Joe Lacarro provides a brisk pace, active staging, and many inventive touches and, bringing an overall fresh perspective to the piece. His dances are playful and unique as well. This version of Peter Pan presents the show in three acts (with two full intermissions), so none of the dances are cut. The result is some extremely visually pleasing choreography which is well executed by the cast. The always superb Rodger Grodsky leads a magnificent sounding 27-piece orchestra.

The costumes, sets, and lighting are a cohesive lot, with a Mardi Gras inspired color scheme dominating each, a departure from many Peter Pan mountings. Mark Halpin's massive scenic design includes a traditional rendering of the Darling kids' bedroom, but also some very distinctive and fun settings in Neverland. Much of Neverland appears to be an abandoned amusement park (possibly a subtle nod to Michael Jackson's Neverland), and the underground home of the Lost Boys and Hook's ship are impressive creations. The lighting by Chris Carter effectively uses some small lights mounted on the Victorian-style wrought iron arches that frame the stage, and includes many beautiful hues for the sky background. The creation of Peter's shadows is accomplished skillfully and the Tinkerbell effects work well also. The costumes by Dean Mogle and Rebecca Senske are extremely fun and eccentric. The pirate and Indian costumes boast many colors and plumage, with the pirates appearing more as gypsies at times, which fits director Lacarro's presentation of the off-kilter crew as well. The sound (Jeremy J. Lee), flying effects (ZFX, Inc), and fight choreography (K. Jenny Jones) are all praiseworthy.

It's obvious that Peter Pan remains an interesting story with many adaptations currently available. Still, the musical version is likely to remain the most popular. CCM provides its typically high caliber mounting of the show, with skilled performers, fresh direction, visually stunning dances, grand musicianship, and outstanding designs.

Peter Pan ran through March 8, 2015. For more information, visit www.ccm.uc.edu.


Photo: Mark Lyons



-- Scott Cain


Also see the current Cincinnati Area Theatre Schedule



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