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Regional Reviews by Gil Benbrook

Peter Pan
Arizona Broadway Theatre

Also see Gil's reviews of Footloose and The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs


David Errigo, Jr., T.J. Rossi, Tristan Klaphake and Sarah Powell
About to celebrate its 60th anniversary, the classic family musical comedy Peter Pan has landed at Arizona Broadway Theatre in a spirited, colorful and, yes, "high flying" production that goes slightly against the tradition of previous Pan productions by casting a young man as Peter. Mary Martin famously brought J. M. Barrie's classic literary character to life in the 1954 Broadway musical, and then played him in three well received TV productions of the show. Other memorable mountings over the years featured Sandy Duncan and then Cathy Rigby as Peter, but having a young man in the part brings a new natural dimension to the character that serves the story well. The ABT production is appropriately light and comical but with a huge heart at the core.

Living far away from London on the island of Neverland with a group of other Lost Boys, the magical Peter Pan is a boy who refuses to grow up. After Peter and his mischievous fairy Tinkerbell visit the Darling family nursery in London one evening, a sprinkling of fairy dust and happy thoughts whisks the Darling children, Wendy, Michael and John, away to Neverland. Their non-stop adventures include encounters with pirates, Indians, mermaids, a crocodile who swallowed a clock, and the deliciously evil Captain Hook. The score, with music by Moose Charlap and Jule Styne, and lyrics from Carolyn Leigh, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, features such classic songs as "Neverland," "I'm Flying" and "I Gotta Crow."

David Errigo, Jr. affects a prepubescent voice to give Peter a youthful exuberance. His athletic physique adds a nice element of strength to Peter's dancing and flying movements and he instills a rousing, boyish charm in every line delivery, gesture and facial expression that culminates in a winning performance. However, since the score was originally written for a female to play the part, the changed keys for a male voice don't quite sit as well or allow Peter's songs to soar quite as much as they do when a woman plays Peter.

Kiel Klaphake seems to relish playing Peter's enemy, the dastardly Captain Hook, wringing the comical lines for all they're worth, but stopping short of chewing the scenery. And while his Hook is devilishly delightful, his portrayal of Mr. Darling is equally touching and sincere. The two performances are so distinct and different that it's hard to believe they are both played by the same actor. Klaphake also has a rich voice that he uses to great effect on Hook's songs.

Sarah Powell makes Wendy the rightly prim and proper English girl in her stern maternal dealings with Peter and the other boys but also adds a nice touch of sweet romanticism in portraying her school girl crush on Peter. Sure, we know Powell and Errigo aren't really youngsters, but they both do a remarkable job of making us believe that they are. Alissa Tucker gives Tiger Lily, the leader of the Indian tribe, a fierce strength, and Jeremy Crawford as the bumbling pirate Smee steals just about every scene he is in.

Director Mace Archer nicely balances the comical moments with the serious ones and choreographer Kurtis W. Overby provides plenty of energy, including a rousing "Ugg-a-Wugg" that has the entire ensemble banging on drums in well-choreographed, synchronized movements. Creative elements, as usual at ABT, are top notch, with colorful and creative sets by William Boles that include some nice comical scenery additions to the flying sequence over London. Creative costumes by Christianne Myers and vibrant lighting by Will Kirkham that paints the stage in rich, deep purples, reds and blues effectively combine with the scenery to perfectly delineate the more serious scenes in the Darling nursery from the comical and adventurous ones in Neverland. The flying effects by ZFX, who also provided the effects for the Rigby productions, are magical and include an abundance of flying throughout the show. The flying includes more than just having the actors swing back and forth and up and down across the stage as is done in many productions. ABT audiences get an additional bonus as, according to a ZFX spokesperson, an added flying rig that sends Peter out over the first few rows of the audience is something that only about 20% of the theatres that stage the show are able to accommodate.

With many well-known classic show tunes, plenty of adventure and many humorous situations, Peter Pan is an enchanting journey. The ABT production soars with its flying effects, fine cast and beautiful creative elements, but also is perfectly earth bound in honoring the rich emotional messages at the core of the story. As a true sign that the magic of theatre is alive and well, at the opening night performance, at the crucial moment in the show when Peter asks the audience if they believe in fairies, one young audience member in the front section, rapt in attention, immediately commented "I believe in fairies." The genuine, soft spoken yet completely serious statement quickly brought gasps and, I can imagine, more than a few choked up tears for those in the audience, and even caught Errigo off guard with the magic that only live theatre can create.

Peter Pan runs through August 17th, 2014, at the Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane in Peoria. Tickets can be ordered at azbroadway.org or by calling 623 776-8400.

Stage Direction: Mace Archer
Choreography by: Kurtis W. Overby
Music Direction: Adam Berger
Scenic Design: William Boles
Lighting Design: Will Kirkham
Costume Design: Christianne Myers
Sound Design: Jason Lynn
Stage Management: Jenissa Yauney
Flying Effects provided by: ZFX, Inc. Artistic Producer and Casting: Cassandra Klaphake
Executive Producer: Kiel Klaphake
Cast: (in order of appearance)
Wendy Darling: Sarah Powell
John Darling: T.J. Rossi
Liza: Alissa Tucker
Michael Darling: Tristan Klaphake
Nana: Isaac Wesley Wilson
Mrs. Darling: Renee Kathleen Koher
Mr. Darling/Captain Hook: Kiel Klaphake
Peter Pan: David Errigo, Jr.* Kangaroo: DJ Petrosino
Ostrich: Carly Copp
Slightly Soiled: Chuckie Dixon
Tootles: Carly Grossman
Curly: Benjamin Rowan
1st Twin: Michael Miller
2nd Twin: Danny Harris Kornfeld
Smee: Jeremy Crawford
Crocodile: Isaac Wesley Wilson
Tiger Lily: Alissa Tucker
Mermaid: Renee Kathleen Koher
Indians: Carly Makani Copp, Ryan Kleinman, DJ Petrosino, Sam Ramirez, David Samson
Starkey: Evan Woltz
Cecco: Kendrick Stallings
Noodler: David Sampson
Mullins: Conner Morley
Wendy Grown-Up: Renee Kathleen Koher
Jane: Carly Grossman
Lost Boys: Markquel Boyd, Noah Bydalek, Natalie Cimino, Andrea Gameros, Carolyn Heinzer, Megan Montoya, Bethany Novotny, Ana Pablos, Nickela Rooney, Corrine Seaver

*Member of Actors Equity Association (AEA)


Photo: Mike Benedetto / Arizona Broadway Theatre

--Gil Benbrook


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for Phoenix



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