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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Peter Pan

Also see Richard's review of The Pirates of Penzance

Never never land has never been as fun as the Broadway by the Bay production of the classic musical Peter Pan. This is a top flight production with energetic dancing, first class singing and a terrific Peter Pan. The interesting sets are from the recent Cathy Rigby tour.

Peter Pan has been a favorite of the English speaking public since he first appeared in Sir James Barrie’s novel in 1902. Peter made his first appearance on stage in England in 1904, and in 1905 the legendary Maude Adams starred in the American premiere at the Empire Theatre. Since then, there have been many productions of the play, movie and cartoon versions and even a ballet based on his adventures.

I first saw Peter Pan at the Imperial Theatre in the summer of 1950. It was a play with music by a young Leonard Bernstein and it starred Jean Arthur as Peter and Boris Karloff as Captain Hook. It ran for 321 performances. I have seen many productions of the Mark Charlap/Jule Stein/Betty Comden and Adolph Green musical, starting with another legendary actress, Mary Martin, as Peter and Cyril Ritchard as Captain Hook. Later, I saw Sandy Duncan and George Rose in the roles. There were short runs of the musical with Cathy Rigby in New York, and J.K. Simmons played Hook in one run that lasted 48 performances. I also saw a wonderful production of the show at the Palladium in London with Lulu and Ron Moody during the Christmas season several years ago. That production had a score by an English composer. Peter has always been played by a young girl with the exception of a recent revival at the Royal National in which the lead was played by a young lad (and Sir Ian McKellen played a wonderful Hook). The tale about the boy who refuses to grow up has had it own ageless charm over all these years.

Broadway by the Bay’s production of Peter Pan is captivating, and it is as professional as any Broadway production I have seen. The company put more than $250,000 into this presentation and they use the same flying rig that Ms. Rigby used on her tour. Melissa Wolfkain is exhilarating in the role of Peter Pan. She is astounding with her athletic flying over the stage, throwing pixie dust about the place. She swaggers about like a young braggadocio. She possesses a great theater voice also.

John Bisceglie is a deliciously overripe Captain Hook. However, he is over melodramatic in the first act as the stuffy father of the Darling family. Mr. Bisceglie plays the role less campy than prior Hooks I have seen. He is more villainous as the mustache twirling captain of the pirates. Bisceglie is particularly good in "Hook's Tango," "Hook's Tarantella" and "Hook's Waltz," with the pirates solidly supporting him in the various dances.

Aubrey Davis plays Wendy with a sincerity and naiveté that is appropriate for a 16 year old girl. She also has a sweet voice. Andrew Sanford as the young Michael Darling is charming while Christopher Hopkins-Ward is properly stiff as the middle child, Peter. Susan Himes Powers, who won the best musical actress prize at the Bay Area Critics Circle last year, is outstanding in the smaller role as Mrs. Darling; she makes the most of her one song, “Tender Shepherd.” Powers permeates entrancing warmth in the nursery scenes. Brad Friedman as Hook’s trusty sidekick Smee has perfect timing with his side remarks. Paige Cook Perez is flawless as Tiger Lily. She performs the original Broadway choreography effortlessly. Amanda Sylvia is engaging as Tootles, the littlest Lost Boy. She reminds me of a young Haley Joel Osment with big horn rimmed glasses.

Choreographer Berle Davis has worked wonders with the young, talented dancers. These young persons who interact as the Lost Boys and Tiger Lily’s Indians are absolutely amazing. They are totally involved with their characters. The “Ugg-a-Wugg” number is joyously raucous. The full orchestra, under the direction of Mark Hanson, delightfully balances the musical and vocal harmonies. This is a first rate professional production.

Peter Pan closed on August 4. The next production will be Evita, and it opens on September 20th. Tickets for that production can be obtained by calling 650-579-5568 or visiting www.broadwaybythebay.org.


Cheers - and be sure to check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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