"I Know a Place Where Dreams Are Born" ...
... and will continue to be born eight times a week until June 27th. The place is Millburn's Paper Mill Playhouse where an expert production of the classic Broadway musical version of James M. Barrie's Peter Pan is introducing thousands of youngsters to the magic of musical theatre.
This Peter Pan is a rarity in its ability to thoroughly entertain in equal measure adults and children of all ages. It is likely that this writer is far from the only grandparent to be moved to tears by the epilogue which beautifully brings James M. Barrie's play full circle.
For those who may not know, this is the story of Peter Pan, the boy from Neverland who won't grow up, and his band of lost boys. Peter is listening at the nursery window of the Darling's London home to hear the stories that Wendy tells to her younger brothers, Michael and John, when the window closes, cutting him off from his shadow. While in the nursery to find it, along with the fairy Tinker Bell, Peter accedes to the request of the awakened Darling children that he teach them how to fly and take them with him to Neverland. There they find adventure with the Lost Boys, the comically villainous Captain Hook and his band of pirates, and a group of (American) Indians led by the lovely Tiger Lily who become Peter's allies against the pirates.
The dazzling Nancy Anderson scores a personal triumph in the role of Peter. There is a great deal of detail (notice her "ride" the toy train in the Darlings' nursery) in her delightfully rambunctious portrayal of the heedless, headstrong boy who steadfastly, but uneasily holds on to his childhood ways. With Anderson's energy and enthusiasm, the insouciant twinkle in her eye, her strong and accurate rendering of the delightful score, and her terpsichorean contributions, and Paper Mill has an ideal, possibly the ideal, Peter Pan. Anderson artfully manages to create a Peter Pan who is all boy without sacrificing her femininity.
Douglas Sills sings most well and conveys comic villainy as the evil Captain Hook (as is traditional, Sills doubles as Mr. Darling). However, a broader interpretation of Hook with more winks, ruffles and, particularly vocal, flourishes, would add considerably to the fun at hand. This might not be as noticeable to one who has not seen Cyril Ritchard in the role (Ritchard created it in the musical Pan opposite Mary Martin's Peter in 1954). Sills is comic enough to show that he is clearly capable of upping the comedic ante.
The lovely Glory Crampton in a welcome return to Paper Mill brings warmth and stylishness to her Mrs. Darling. Hayley Podschun is a lovely Wendy. Jessica Lee Goldyn makes a strong impression in the role of Tiger Lily. Any worry that the stereotypical presentation of the Neverland Indians might be offensive is quickly erased by the star quality performance of Goldyn as their leader. Goldyn conveys strength, intelligence and beauty in her presence, mien and performance. The strength and smooth accuracy of her dancing is special, indeed.
Mark Hoebee has directed at the sprightliest pace possible, and elicited energetic, robust performances from his willing and able 26-member strong performing crew.
Choreographer Patti Colombo, who is becoming the essential go-to artist at Paper Mill, remains in top form. The highlight of the evening is her rousing, show-stopping choreography for the show's major production number ("Ugg-A-Wugg") which celebrates the friendship between the Lost Boys and the Indians. Given the intricate, propulsive nature of the choreography, the sharp precision of the execution of her dancers is breathtaking. As with On the Town earlier this Paper Mill season, Colombo has done right by the great Jerome Robbins who directed and choreographed the initial production of this version of Peter Pan.
Paper Mill employs the elaborate and attractive scenic design that was created by John Iacovelli for the last production of Peter Pan to play Broadway (1998-99). The bright orchestrations are in the capable hands of an 18-piece orchestra conducted by Robert Meffe.
You may be surprised to learn that this musical Peter Pan, which was commissioned by the San Francisco Light Opera Company with a score by Mark (Moose) Charlap (music) and Carolyn Leigh (lyrics), almost closed prior to getting to Broadway. When it was in danger of closing on the West Coast, Jerome Robbins called in Jule Styne (music) and Betty Comden and Adolph Green (lyrics) as show doctors. The resulting amalgam is the seamless integration of fine songs from each team that effectively serve the Barrie play. Charlap/Leigh contributions include "I've Gotta Crow", "I'm Flying" and "I Won't Grow Up"; Styne/Comden and Green's include "Never Never Land", "(Build a House for) Wendy", "Ug-A-Wugg" and "Oh, My Mysterious Lady".
And then there's that extensive high flying by Peter and the Darling children. Like the entire production, it is well executed by actors and crew, and irresistible fun for both the young and the young in heart.
Peter Pan continues performances (Evenings: Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday & Sunday 7:00 pm/ Matinees: Thursday, Saturday & Sunday 1:30 pm) through June 27, 2010 at Paper Mill Playhouse, Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ 07041. Box Office: 973-376-4343. Online: www.papermill.org.
Peter Pan based on the play by James M. Barrie; music by Mark Charlap
and lyrics by Carolyn Leigh/ add'l. music by Jule Styne and add'l. lyrics by Betty
Comden and Adolph Green; directed by Mark Hoebee; choreographed by Patti