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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

An Intermittently Enchanting Peter Pan
at Seattle Children's Theatre

Also see our review of Meet Me in St. Louis

A Christmas Carol
Eric Ankrim and David Pichette
One of those shows that seems made for the holidays, even if not Christmas specific, Peter Pan, in the adaptation crafted originally as a vehicle for Broadway superstar Mary Martin, comes to Seattle Children's Theatre in a lovely-to-look-at, musically mellifluous and occasionally enchanting production directed by SCT artistic director Linda Hartzell. What keeps it from flying higher is Ms. Hartzell's stock, uninspired direction of the show, and what makes it airborne intermittently is a largely well-chosen cast, headed by former Seattle theatre regular Eric Ankrim.

The SCT production tightens the Jerome Robbins adaptation (with timelessly tuneful songs by Mark Charlap, Carolyn Leigh, Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green) of James Barrie's timeless tale of the three Darling children's adventures in Neverland with Peter Pan, the Lost Boy who never grows up, from three acts into two, and trims about an hour of the show's running time. Yet oddly, the director's lack of imagination and vision makes the show feel more draggy than the full-length versions I have seen. Ankrim's Peter is raffishly charming, and the tailored-for-Martin songs have been transposed into keys suitable to his capable high-baritone range. Particularly enjoyable is his handling of "Mysterious Lady," a number that has a far different effect when sung by a woman playing Peter. David Pichette is a most suitable, lightly campy Captain Hook, and also does well by his musical moments, such as "Captain Hook's Waltz." Just why director Hartzell decided to have another actor (capable veteran Peter Crook) play Mr. Darling, traditionally essayed by the actor playing Hook, is a mystery and a misstep. Another odd choice was to cast mature young adult actors Emily Chisholm as Wendy Darling and Brian Lange as John Darling, while their younger brother Michael is played by an actual child actor (engaging Dean Chrisafis at the performance I attended), which makes Chisholm and Lange seem more like his parents than siblings. Maggie Stenson is a properly stiff upper lip Mrs. Darling, and swaggers lustily as a pirate for the bulk of the show.

The biggest enchantment in the production comes from the idea to stage the Indian's big "smoke-em peace pipe" number "Ugg-A Wugg" as an East Indian Bollywood-style number; as choreographed by Marianne Roberts, the exuberant, splashy extravaganza is truly the show-stopper, led with zeal by SCT regular Khanh Doan as Tiger Lily, with the sure-footed ensemble following suit.

Flying by Foy, the company that made Martin and many past Peter Pan's soar, is utilized, but due most likely top budgetary limitations, the flying is fairly limited and lackluster. More crucially, SCT should have budgeted for more than four musicians to give the score its due, though musical director Mark Rabe has done his best to work within the limitations.

Carey Wong designed the colorful, fanciful sets, while Catherine Hunt's costumes are ample eye-candy, and her two gowns for Mrs. Darling are simply stunning. Though Tim Wratten's lighting design is generally satisfying, the light effect signifying Tinker Bell's presence is both unimaginative and low tech.

The young audience members around me seemed spellbound with the show, but as someone who himself is proud to admit he's never grown up, at heart anyway, this Peter Pan never fully took flight.

Peter Panruns through January 10, 2010 at Seattle Children's Theatre, 201 Thomas Street in Seattle Center. Visit www.sct.org or phone (206) 441-3322 for further information.


Photo: Chris Bennion

See the list of this season's theatre offerings in the Seattle area.



- David Edward Hughes



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