In my childhood days of the 1950’s, even before the network telecasts of “The Wizard of Oz” became an annual joy for the nation’s children, there was the magical wonder of “Peter Pan.” There was the ever-popular animated version from Disney.
Meanwhile, even those of us restricted to black and white television sets knew something special was about to happen when the NBC Peacock spread its wings, and the announcer declared, “The following program is brought to you in living color!” Such was the case when the Mary Martin musical first appeared on television more than four decades ago. It became an annual celebration in reruns for years afterwards; and some months ago I was lucky enough to find a DVD of that original production for ten dollars at my local Wal-Mart. Now Christmas has come to us early with a delightful “Peter Pan” production from the Woodlands High School. (Performances December 7 and 8 at 7 p.m., and December 9 at 2 p.m. Call 936-273-8530 for information and reservations.)
Director Larry Wood delivers a fine rendition of the J.M. Barrie story. It is not the song-filled Mary Martin version, but it’s perfect fun for young theatergoers this holiday season. From a playful opening in the charming nursery, (one of many fine set designs from F.B.Kern) we are transported to a magical world of fantasy. Mr. and Mrs. Darling (Lance Kramer and Erin Roche) are losing patience as they try to get their children, Wendy (Deborah Borchers), Michael (Jacob Jones), and John (Michael Stablein), ready for bed before going out for the evening. The family maid, Liza (primly played by Crystal Hawthorne) is exasperated, too. The family dog, Nana, (woofingly portrayed by Robbie Marshall), is adding to the confusion. And speaking of Nana, it was one of many clever, part-puppet costumes that add exceptional creativity to this effort. Not since “The Lion King,” a few years ago on Broadway, have I seen such unique designs combining costumes (Designer: Elizabeth Motherwell) with puppetry (Designers: Anna Smith and Tatiana Hinofotis).
Peter Pan (Brandon Kahn) arrives in fabulous flight and soon has the Darling children airborne as well. This is all done with such professional skill by Peter, Wendy, Michael, and John, that I must mention Flying Director, Chip Christensen, and Flymaster, Brandon Bartoskewitz. Then, just as suddenly, we are transported to the world of Never-Never-Land. Through clever projections from Lighting Designer, Nevin Ryan, it is a vine-covered world of forests and mystery. Indians, Pirates, Lost Boys, and exotic animals roam this world, and prowl the audience. (This was great fun for all, but occasionally movement through the audience was insufficiently lighted.) We see Kangaroo (Nikki Delhomme), Leopard (Vanessa Stripling), Bird (Jessica Hook), Ostrich (Mary Laws), and Crocodile (Adam DeCaulp) come vividly to life. I wish the program had listed a chorographer for the many fine battle scenes, sword fights, and outstanding dance numbers from Pirates, Indians and Lost Boys. There is plenty of Laurel & Hardy style nonsense from the pairing of Captain Hook (hilariously played by Galen McQuillen), and his first mate, Smee (the equally riotous Andrew McKinney). Cristina Killingsworth nicely portrays the Indian princess, Tiger Lily. Of course Tinkerbell is on hand, too, but you will have to look closely. As for Peter Pan himself, Mr. Kahn brings lots of fun and energy to the role.
The Lost Boy’s forest home and the two-tiered pirate ship are further set design triumphs for Kern, who also presided over the many fine special effects. His talented crew is too large to list here. Hair designs from Devin Preston work especially well on the pirates; and Make-Up Designer, Holly Theis, along with Puppet Make-Up Designer, Karen Cox, add lots of special touches. I wish I could mention the dozens of other students who contributed to this success. Why not make it a family gift for the holidays and come see for yourself? Don’t forget to clap if you believe in fairies!
(The Courier 12.11.00)