blair irwin and stephen roberts
photo by scott munn
We each have a story that resonates deep within our soul and for me that story is James Matthew Barrie’s Peter Pan. Since I was very young, the boy who never grew up has sprinkled his pixie dust within my heart and ignited my fervent imagination inspiring me to strive each day as I grow up to insure that I never ever grow old. Neverland is, after all, the place where dreams are born and one must hold on tightly to it and continue to believe for its magic to have any power. The 1954 musical based on Barrie’s play, with lyrics by Carolyn Leigh and music by Mark Charlap, plays until May 30th at Neptune Theatre in Halifax and it is a visually exciting and utterly endearing retelling of my favourite tale.
Neptune Theatre’s Fountain Hall stage is small and so it is expressly impressive that set designer Geoffrey Dinwiddlie was able to succeed in creating such stunning and magical worlds for both the Darling Family’s nursery and for the various locations in Neverland. Despite the fact that the book of this musical is nearly identical to Barrie’s original play, Leigh and Charlap’s music does not sparkle with its own distinctive zest or spirit. For this reason the musical relies heavily on its dancers and its fight choreographer to provide the dynamism and sense of momentum for the story. Thankfully, with the combined brilliance of choreographer Jim White and Fight Director Robert Seale, Neptune’s production swashbuckles vibrantly into action.
There is a lot to admire in Neverland. The Pirates and the Tribesman are exquisite dancers who continually fill the stage with energy and provide seamless transitions from one scene to the next. Marty Burt has created an especially memorable pirate with Starkey, a pirate I wish we saw more of. The Lost Boys (Andrew Barley, Konstantinos Haitas, Zak Kearns, Jeigh Madjus and David Mickle) are wonderfully boisterous and delightfully mischievous while still shining with the innate goodness of innocence in their hearts. Heidi Ford gives a strong performance as the fierce dancing Tiger Lily, although knowing Ford’s brilliant comic timing and gorgeous singing voice, I wish that she was given more stage time. Jeff Schwager is both hilarious and adorable as Smee, the First Mate with the heart of gold, and he provides the show with many of its most inspired and freshest comedic moments.
In the Nursery Kirstin Howell gives a lovely performance as Mrs. Darling and she and Keith Savage (as Mr. Darling) create a sweet relationship as both spouses and parents. Savage plays Mr. Darling without his usual hot temper, which makes him a far more sympathetic character, but drains some of the potential humour from the Nursery scene. Allison MacDougall gives a captivating turn as Wendy’s daughter Jane. Crystal MacDonell’s costume for Nana, the Darling’s St. Bernard who doubles as their nurse, looks incredibly lifelike, which is aided by Daniel Dyer, whose movements are absolutely canine. Nathaniel Dooks and Jonathan Logan are well cast as Michael and John respectively and Blair Irwin shows off a sweet and winsome voice as Wendy, although she could benefit from relaxing into her lines a bit more.
Stephen Roberts brings incredible acrobatics and a spirit of playfulness and surprise to Peter Pan as he does cartwheels without hands, spins, flies and flips continuously throughout the performance always with crispness and energy. His Peter is bossy, arrogant and quick to fly into a temper, but Roberts is also capable of demonstrating Peter’s hidden pain and a repressed sense of dependency when he is forced to allow his boys, his brothers, to return to London with the Darlings without him. He also has a lovely voice and it is incredible that he is able to belt so clearly whilst simultaneously tumbling all over the stage. Keith Savage is deliciously villainous as Captain Hook and gives a performance that tickles the funny bone and revels in the wickedness and vileness of the greatest Pirate Captain of them all.
This production does have its few shortcomings, the small stage limits the range for flying quite significantly, there are a few inconsistent British accents and Roberts’ real shadow sometimes threatens to break the illusion that Peter has lost his, but none of these detract from the overall magic of the show. In all, there is a definite sense of fun and frivolity present here that sweeps the audience away to the second star to the right and urges us to believe in and to cherish the child within us all.
Peter Pan plays at Neptune Theatre’s Fountain Hall (1593 Argyle Street) until May 30th, 2010. For more information or to book your tickets please call 902.429.7070 or visit http://www.neptunetheatre.com/.