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Always Always Land

Theatre by The Sea’s Peter Pan soars
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  July 21, 2009

MAGIC IN THE AIR Kimmel, Temel, Mercurio, and Miller.

The much loved tale of Peter Pan gets a revival on Broadway at least every generation for good reason. Not just because it appeals to kids, which goes without saying, but because it gives grownups a respectable excuse to see it themselves with their own kids. Its basic appeal is still there at Theatre by the Sea (through August 8), though the current production has flaws that won't allow our child within to emerge without being annoyed by comments from our observant adult.

Based on the play by J. M. Barrie (who only later adapted it into the 1911 children's novel), this is the musical version with lyrics by Carolyn Leigh and music by Mark Charlap. Originally directed by Jerome Robbins, it had plenty of help being fine-tuned for its 1954 Broadway run starring Mary Martin, getting additional lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green (who teamed up for Singin' In the Rain) and more music from Jule Styne. No wonder it won three Tonys, plus more of them for each of its three revivals. No, there's nothing wrong with this musical that a wholehearted production can't turn around.

A boy who doesn't want to ever grow up — who hasn't been there, regardless of gender? Every kid feels that they don't get enough attention, so what better decision for them than to join a bunch of adventurous Lost Boys whose neglectful nannies had let them fall out of their carriages? And what better addition to this family than Wendy Darling? Although her two kid brothers are tagging along, her main task is to mother the boys, feeding them desserts for dinner and sewing pockets onto their nightshirts.

As directed by Gary John La Rosa, where the production fails is in designing this all for kids, rather than treating Peter Pan as a full-fledged, legitimate comedy, which grownups would appreciate and which wouldn't patronize children.

But more about that later. What's good about this Matunuck rendition is very good. Production values are first-rate, with exquisite scenic design by Peter Barbieri Jr. The fancy children's room where Peter first flies in is perfectly inviting, and Never Never Land is full of tropical colors and enormous plants that appropriately dwarf the boys.

Costume designer Jeff Shearer had fun varying their ragged clothing, and he mischievously reminds us of their stinky state by having a couple of them wear skunk skin caps rather than coonskin. British accents stick on the upper-class Darling children better than I've sometimes heard at Trinity Rep. (Peter and his troupe have American accents, which somehow seems preferable — frontier spirit?)

The best thing about this Peter Pan is the actor — it's always a woman, traditionally — in the title role. Cary Michele Miller is a spunky sprite, full of life, who seems ready for mischief even when her fists aren't on her hips. Of course, her rendition of Peter's anthem, "I Won't Grow Up," is great fun, but her singing of the sad, gentle "Distant Melody" with Wendy (Anna Kimmel) shows a soulfulness that beautifully rounds out the motherless Peter.

Kimmel's Wendy is a properly English but fun-loving playmate for Peter, and the brothers, John (Nicholas Mercurio) and Michael (Dylan Temel), join in enthusiastically. But while Peter S. Adams is adequate as the stiff but compliant Mr. Darling, he offers little personality with Captain Hook, besides exaggerated shock takes and mugging. Those sorts of overly broad comedic devices, as though only the five-year-olds in the audience are being played to, are pumped up with most of the pirates, who with the Indians are after the Lost Boys. They come across as cartoonish rather than intensely concerned with their little escapades, which would have let the comical aspect come out on its own, as it does with Hook's woebegone sidekick Smee (Ron Sarro).

Tiger Lily (Krystina Almaguer) and her troupe of wild Indians — two male and four female, for some graceful as well as amusing choreography by Ann Presley — are more effective, because they're not trying too hard. Another touch that works well is Nana (Matthew Wagner), the Darlings' St. Bernard nanny, always an entertaining sight.

Peter, Peter, you'd better not grow up. You really do have something to crow about.

Related: The glory of Blaze, Gershwin done right, Frank's way, More more >
  Topics: Theater , Entertainment, Peter Pan, Peter Pan,  More more >
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