Peter Pan Is a Spirited Adventure for Children and Adults

The Setup:

The magical story by James M. Barrie about Peter Pan, Tinker Bell and Wendy remains fresh and timeless at the Berry Center, courtesy of the Houston Family Arts Center. This is the Tony Award-winning musical version that starred Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard on Broadway in 1954, and that has been aired on television a number of times.

The Execution:

Wendy, one of three children in the Darling family, is played with open-faced, smiling charm by Rebekah Stanley, who first sees Tinker Bell as a twinkling green light, then in the "flesh", with wings, as portrayed with vivacity by Morgan Van Dyne. And then Peter Pan flies into her life, literally, and a great adventure begins. Morgan Montgomery plays Peter, and provides a portrait of energy, poise and heart certain to be memorable. Montgomery dominates the stage with her charisma (Peter is usually played by a female), her gestures are graceful and end with show-business snap, and it is easy to see why Wendy would be enticed by Peter.

They proceed to "Neverland", where Peter is leader of the orphaned Lost Boys in an underground home, and Wendy agrees to be their mother. There are wild Indians, and Peter is pursued by Captain Hook, a pirate captain whose right hand had been devoured by a crocodile and replaced with a hook. He is played by Matt Elliott, who is wonderful - he seems to have channeled a bit of Charlie Chaplin to stunning effect. There are colorful costumes, interesting and witty set changes, a flamingo puppet and a monkey puppet, frenetic chase scenes, characters hiding in a variety of locations, and reappearing, often from the rear of the audience. Energy abounds.

Peter Pan has a shadow, played skillfully by Emiley Smith, whose part is necessarily pantomime, mirroring Peter, but not always, as this shadow has a mind of her own. Sabine Langeland plays the maid in the Darling household, and has a dance sequence which, though brief, adds grace and beauty to the goings-on. The cast is large, over thirty actors, and the entire enterprise maintains an endearing tone of, well... fun! There are touching moments, as when the audience needs to clap its hands to save Tinker Bell, and this famed moment might perhaps have been slowed down, and made more of.

The songs, though good, are not show-stoppers, but I especially liked the ensemble "I Won't Grow Up" in Act One and the "I Gotta Crow" reprise with Peter and Wendy in Act Two. Montgomery as Peter has a clear, lyrical projection that bodes well for an enduring career. The lyrics are by Caroyn Leigh, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and the music is by Mark Charlap and Julie Styne.

A production this major needs an army of implementers, too many to name them all, but Josh Clark as director has succeeded in keeping the action moving, the tone light-hearted, and the charm intact, helped by Michael Montgomery as assistant director and producer. The pleasurable choreography is by Dinah Mahlman, effective sound design by Harry Perrin, and deft musical direction by Adam Delka. The colorful costumes are by Amber Stepanik , the highly successful scenic design is by Lisa Garza, and the complicated and intriguing lighting design is by Ron Putterman. And, yes, the nursery pet dog, Nana, is played by a live dog.

It's a special pleasure to see so many young children onstage, so talented, and so experienced. Natalie Lammey, a Lost Boy, is 12 and has been performing for six years. Lost Boy Evan Delaune is 11 and this is his tenth HFAC production. For Emiley Smith, so good as Shadow, it's her 17th HFAC show. And Indian Warrior Shaun Furter is 13 and is in his 25th show in seven years. Wow!

The Verdict:

A children's classic is clearly for adults as well, as light-hearted charm and clear-headed fun weave a tapestry of joy in a fascinating tale that speaks to the adventurous spirit in all of us. See it!

Peter Pan continues through March 16, from the Houston Family Arts Center (HFAC) at the Berry Center, 8877 Barker Cypress. For information or ticketing, call 281-685-6374 or contact www.houstonfac.com.

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