Story: Stuffy Mr. Darling lives in London with his wife and their three children, Wendy, John and Michael, along with their maid Liza and dog Nina. The children are treated to bedtime stories at night by the loving Mrs. Darling. Unknowingly, they are visited by the flying Peter Pan, who enjoys the stories himself. When Peter’s shadow is captured one night, he returns with the fairy Tinker Bell to retrieve it and is met unexpectedly by Wendy.
Peter convinces Wendy and her brothers to journey with him to Neverland, where he lives with fairies and the “Lost Boys,” none of whom want to grow up. Neverland also is the island home of the Piccadilly Tribe and its leader, Tiger Lily, as well as a band of pirates led by the one-handed Captain Hook, who lost his other hand to a menacing and still lurking crocodile.
Once in Neverland, Wendy, John and Michael help Peter Pan and Tiger Lily defeat Captain Hook and his brigands to keep it a safe haven.
Highlights: A fanciful children’s tale written by James M. Barrie at the turn of the 20th century, Peter Pan was converted into a musical in 1954 that featured Tony Award-winning performances by Mary Martin as Peter and Cyril Ritchard as the foppish Captain Hook. It also was made into a popular Disney animated film.
With its large number of “Lost Boys” and members of the Piccadilly Tribe, Peter Pan was an ideal choice for the annual Variety Children’s Theatre recent production at the University of Missouri-St. Louis’ Touhill Performing Arts Center. The sizable cast allowed 27 Variety Kids to participate both on and off the stage in a polished professional presentation.
Other Info: Lara Teeter provided both stylish direction and simple but effective choreography that allowed the kids the opportunity to participate without being overwhelmed by intricate dance moves. They also benefited from the leadership of Dawn Gilbertson, a dancer with The Big Muddy Dance Company, whose graceful moves as Tiger Lily added a luster to the performance, aided by other Big Muddy dancers Geoff Alexander, Kelly Bitzer, Dustin Crumbaugh, Miranda Miller, Ellen Reed and Erin Warner.
A bevy of St. Louis’ finest performers plied their trade for the enchantment of youngsters in the audience. Alan Knoll was properly stiff and Edwardian as the drab Mr. Darling before transforming into the casually nasty Captain Hook, bent on revenge against Peter for cutting off his hand and feeding it to the opportunistic crocodile.
His dutiful minions included Whit Reichert, amusing as his right-hand man (so to speak) Smee, John Flack, Larry Mabrey, Gerry Love, Rich Pisarkiewicz, Chris Reifsteck, Doug Landholt, Shawn Leonard, Greg Matzker and Darrius Roberts.
Susie Wall was a faithful and doting Mrs. Darling, Kay Love added flair as the strict maid Liza, Jordan Parente was the paws-on family dog Nana and Drew Redington glided smoothly across the stage as the toothy croc.
Teeter filled the role of the title character with the fetching Jamey Powell, a young woman with easygoing stage presence and a pleasant voice to match. She adapted to the flying rig provided by Flying by Foy with deceptively effortless ease, while her smooth but sturdy vocal chords were charming to hear on tunes such as Neverland and I Gotta Crow.
Abigail Isom demonstrated her own considerable talents as Wendy, blending seamlessly with Powell on the I’m Flying number and others of the pleasant tunes penned nearly 60 years ago by lyricists Carolyn Leigh, Betty Comden and Adolph Green with composers Mark Charlap and Jule Styne. There was good work, too, by Ronan Ryan as John and Michael Harp as Michael. Julie Piekarski had a cameo appearance as the grown-up Wendy and Selah Harris played Wendy’s own delighted daughter, Jane.
The cast cavorted across a number of brightly painted and festooned sets, including the Darlings’ nursery, the island of Neverland and the pirates’ fearsome ship, all courtesy of Dunsi Dai. John Wylie’s lights, Rusty Wandall’s sound and the costumes of Kansas City Costume added to the merriment, as did the lively orchestra directed by Greg Schweizer, including the xylophone player who added the ‘voice’ of Tinker Bell.
Getting to participate and doing so capably and enthusiastically were Meghan Burgess, Jimmy Coogan, Kara Dewall, Nicholas George, Grace Knight, Louisa Mauze, Michael Schimmele, Libby Schueddig, Megan Stevenson, Kaitlyn Trower and Caleb Wells as the Lost Boys, along with Megan Concagh, Hannah Crews, Alexander Curcuru, Alexander Godiner, Eddy Hahn, Chloe Harris, Spencer Jones, Haley Miller, Trey Perlut, Caroline Reifsteck, Ruben Thomas, Tori Welker, Annie Williams and Luke Wilmes in the Lost Boys ensemble.
Contributing as the Piccadilly Tribe were Reagan Austin, Kaley Bender, Ashley Brown, Molly Carl, Mollie Carter, Kaci Conley, Olivia Eaker, Caroline Eiseman, Anna Gassett, Gracie Gibson, Selah Harris, Chloe Haynes, Gracie Kelley, Madison Lay, Bella Leonard, Lily Manning, Kara Marino, Morgan McDonald, Isabel McKean, Sydney Mitchell, Julia Moore, Emma Price, Mackenzie Sanders and Abigail Weber.
While the two-act show at times seemed longer than its two-and-a-half-hour running time, under Teeter’s careful and creative guidance even Tinker Bell had a fine time observing the curious goings-on in Neverland.
Musical: Peter Pan
Company: Variety Children’s Theatre
Venue: Touhill Performing Arts Center, UMSL
Dates: Run concluded
Photo courtesy of ProPhoto STL