Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Peter Pan is the tale of a bright young girl who leaves her parents behind to visit Neverland with the boy who will never grow up. Peter leads Wendy through a tantalizing world of loyal fairies, magic dust, dangerous mermaids, vicious pirates, and epic battles. Wendy embraces everything Peter shows her, but eventually realizes something Peter can never understand. A life without growth or responsibility is just as empty as a world without adventure or magic, and being free to always do exactly what you like means giving up things like family.
Emilie Krause is a charmingly precocious Wendy. Jo Vito Ramirez exudes youthful joy, but plays Peter Pan with just enough swagger to remind us that eternal youth is also endless immaturity. Both Krause and Ramirez walk the line between youthful innocence and adolescent angst. Catherine Slusar is a gloriously fiendish Captain Hook. Eliana Fabiyi, Brandon Pierce, and Leah Walton deftly play every other role in the story, from children to pirates and even mermaids. The quick changes and farcical transitions add to the sense of fun.
The artistic team's whimsical stagecraft is impressive. Peter and Wendy swing above the audience on thick ropes that look more thrilling and spontaneous than any hidden harness. David Gordon's magical set design feels like a gigantic playground. Olivera Gajic's costumes are playful and original. Tinkerbell comes to life with LED lights on the fingertips of black gloves and the tick tock crock is a marvelous surprise.
Unfortunately, in the midst of all this excitement and magic, the show's more emotionally charged moments get lost. When the big battle is complete, Krause and Ramirez immediately agree that Wendy must return home, but three seconds is all it would take to give the transition meaning and set up Peter's uncanny declaration. A meaningful moment is rushed again when Jane (Fabiyi) asks for permission to go to Neverland with Peter. Even the sequence where the audience is asked to "clap your hands if you believe in fairies" is robbed of its emotional weight in favor of a gimmicky instance of audience participation.
MacLaughlin's exhilarating production opens and closes with Wendy and her family playing games and camping out together. It seems that Wendy's adventures continued long after she grew up and left Neverland, even if she did not encounter any more fairies or pirates. Take some kids you love to see Peter Pan and experience an electric and innovative adventure together.
Peter Pan runs through January 28th, 2017 on the Arden's F. Otto Hass Stage at 40 N. 2nd Street in Philadelphia PA. For tickets call the Box Office at 215-922-1122 or visit www.ardentheatre.org.