Justin Doran, John Cooper School Have A Lot to Crow About With Peter Pan

For the many area parents who invest heavily in their children’s education by sending them to the exclusive John Cooper School, this weekend is justifiable proof that theirs is a worthwhile investment. The school has literally taken flight with its astounding current production of the musical, “Peter Pan,” directed by John Cooper’s exceptionally talented drama instructor, Justin Doran. If you hurry, there is one more performance today at 2 p.m. in The Woodlands High School auditorium. You may feel like you are flying when this wonderful show is over.

Based on the play by J.M. Barrie, this musical edition made the Broadway star, Mary Martin, a household name in the early days of color television. The show features the lyrics of Carolyn Leigh, the music of Mark Charlap, and additional music from Julie Styne, with additional lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Would that they all could have been on hand for this stunning Opening Night. Their music was well served by this talented cast, Musical Director, Donna Arnold, J.C.S. Band Director, Jeff Knox, and conductor, Rae Moses, with his fine pit orchestra. The first of many lovely set designs (they would include pirate ships, mermaid lagoons, and underground caves) was the charming nursery of the Darling family children (Smitha Johnson as Wendy, Georgia Wilkinson/ Mike Oesterling as John, and Spencer Anderson / Ty Doran as Michael). As Mrs. Darling, sweet-voiced Kaylan Sikkel leads the children in the equally sweet lullaby, “Tender Shepherd.” The shaggy family dog, Nana (Alex McGregor), adds to the fun, as does the often exasperated, Mr. Darling (Michael McCann). But the real fun arrives with the very high-flying entry of Tinkerbell and Peter Pan (Meredith Tyler), who sings an energetic, “I Gotta Crow.” Energy was Miss Tyler’s trademark in this demanding role, and there were even moments when she might have relaxed a bit more to trust the song in lieu of added physical movement. But not to worry, her performance is a winner! The amazing “I’m Flying” cast flights that would follow above stage and audience, make it necessary to mention The Woodlands High School Tech Crew, and also Technical Director Tony MacNeil with his assistants, Drew Comstock, and Richelle Jefferson. What they and the cast accomplished with mid-air ballet, acrobatics, and swordplay, would amaze a Broadway audience.

Act II’s Neverland set is a lush dream inhabited by a pesky Crocodile (again, Alex McGregor), a rowdy cast of Lost Boys, the lusty pirates of flamboyant Captain Hook (rotated by Danny Batton and Gerry Mijares), and his amusing First Mate, Smee (Kyle Cameron). Hook’s facial make-up alone should win a prize, and his costume (one of the many fine designs from Laura Perkowski) is a pip! These pirates all sing with gusto, and are hilarious whether dancing the gay tangos or tarantellas of gifted choreographer, Elizabeth DelMonico. She then brings her dance inspirations to the ballet of a wonderful tribe of Indians, led by dance sensation, Kelsey Bishop, in the role of Tiger Lily. Along with Peter, Wendy, and the boys, their drum-pounding, acrobatic performance of the pulsing, dramatic and electrifying, “Ugg-a-Wugg” is a thundering, not-to-be-missed highlight of the show.

The sweet song, “Wendy,” seemed to this critic to be over-produced at a time in the show when a more low-key change of pace from frenzy was required. The beautifully danced “I Won’t Grow Up,” was similarly high-strung, but in its final moments the gentleness of these sweet young voices was allowed to surface. And speaking of sweet young voices, the calming moment I had waited for came in Miss Johnson’s surprising and delicate performance of the poignant, “Distant Melody,” with pleasant assistance from Ms. Tyler. The full company reprise of “I Gotta Crow” was a sure-fire homerun, as the cast overflowed into an appreciative audience that would soon be on its feet. Let’s dedicate that song to Mr. Doran and his young performers. Surely, they have a lot to crow about!

(The Courier    11.13.05)

About The People's Critic

David Dow Bentley III, writes columns about the performing arts which are featured in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast. A member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), The International Theatre Critics Association, and America's oldest theatrical club, The Lambs, he also had long service as the editor of The Lambs' Script magazine. Mr. Bentley may be contacted via e-mail at ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.
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