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at The New York Musical Festival

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray - July 27, 2016

Some mysteries are better left unexplained. With Tink!, which is now playing at the Pearl Theatre as part of the New York Musical Festival, writers Anthony Marino (book), Lena Gabrielle (music and lyrics), and Greg Kerestan (lyrics) set out to weave the backstory of Peter Pan's fairy pal, Tinker Bell, but instead obscure the spark that has made her so delightful for more than a century.

In this telling, Tink (Elly Noble) is a bland, headstrong tweeny heroine who, in manner and voice, may be in the midst of giving a killer audition to play Elphaba in Wicked. Her mom, dad, and younger siblings don't understand her, and are moving to the "Royal Fairy Village" in search of status; when they get there, Tink must fend off the materialistic barbs lobbed at her by the popular kids at her high school (sorry, Fairy Academy) before teaching them—and everyone—that the only real choice in life is to be yourself.

Rather less generic (but not less original) are the scenes that fix Tink within the Peter Pan universe, which for some reason involve her being best friends with Indian princess Tiger Lily (Shoba Narayan) and a potential romance for James (Max Sheldon), the handsome second-in-command of the local pirate troupe. Then an English boy who doesn't want to grow up (Kurt Hellerich) falls from the sky at the end of Act I, and everything predictably changes forever.

In top-level execution, the musical, which was first produced by the Stage Right Theatre Company in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, is rigorously professional. Beyond the Technicolor fantasy scenic design (Ann Beyersdorfer) and lights (Jamie Roderick) and the flat-out amazing, palette-spanning fairy-tale costumes (Tracy Angelo and Lynn Rusnica), Gabrielle and Kerestan have written with an eye and ear toward preteen showstoppers. Melodic and energetic numbers flood the song stack, with paeans to the Neverland setting, piracy, first love, lost love, and, of course, the joy of the quest. It hardly matters that the lyrics contain little in the way of eternal truth, and that the songs are so painstakingly choreographed (by director Rachel Klein and Danielle Marie Fusco) they become mechanical—they're the aural embodiment of in-the-moment fun, which, in these surroundings, is all that counts.

But the line between "magical" and "workmanlike" is unsettlingly thin here, and the show, for all its innocence, ends up playing like a cynical, even desperate, ploy for attention. Does Tink need to be at the center of everything? Should she have complex relationships with everyone except Peter—which is the one anyone familiar with the source is doubtlessly most interested in? And does any of this do genuine honor to Tinker Bell's creator, J.M. Barrie, or does it in fact flatten his reputation by pretending that there's nothing timeless about this flitting young fairy, and Tink can only truly be relevant if she's a 2016 feminist in the making?

Regardless, Noble plays her to the hilt, with a bright, smile-making belt voice and no shortage of spunk to power the two-hour-plus evening; Sheldon contributes some appropriate enigmatic heat; and Narayan, though stuck in a thankless role, is not wanting for charisma. With the exception of Patch David, whose scenery-munching Smee is overboard even by the character's usual standards, everyone else is a solid fit, too. But only Hellerich truly embodies the high-flying spirit of his part, marshaling both a child's wide-eyed wonder and an adult's stubbornness to makes the (soon-to-be) Boy Who Would Not Grow Up the devilish, death-defying delight he's supposed to be.

It's perhaps predictable, then, that the evening's highlight is the first song in the second act, "An Awfully Big Adventure," in which Peter and Tink indirectly plot out the exciting course of their future lives, and leap into the revivifying waves of fantasy with both feet: They love that they don't know what's coming. You can't get closer to Barrie's Peter Pan than that, but this moment that should most thrill you is marred by the sad reality that Peter's mere presence is enough to upstage Tink in her own vehicle. If hers is a story that needs to be told, Tink! doesn't prove it—but it's good enough to send you back to the original to learn or relearn just what all that fuss was justifiably about.

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