Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
Definitely not a project to be undertaken lightly, Flint Youth Theatre’s production of J.M Barrie’s venerable fantasy Peter Pan took flight Friday evening in front of a full house at F.A. Bower Theatre. Even though it is not the musical version, it is an ambitious effort with some interesting interpretations and twists in the tale.
Most are familiar with this story of the enchanting boy who refuses to grow up, but Joshua Clark’s Peter Pan is a departure from the norm. A scruffy, barefoot fellow with an unkempt mop of bushy hair and an impish, lively demeanor, he will be a surprise to those expecting the Disney version.
Peter’s refuge, known as Neverland, is also home to other “lost boys”, an Indian tribe and a crew of quirky pirates led by the famous but cowardly Captain Hook. Guest artist Anthony Guest plays this double role well (he is also Mr. Darling) moving from the somewhat whiney Darling to the dashing but nervous Hook with ease. If he weren’t so tall, we might never have known it was the same person.
As Wendy Darling, Elizabeth Taylor is sweet, nurturing, and occasionally pouty. Her biggest rival for Peter’s attention is the fairy Tinker Bell. Often this role is played simply by a bright and bouncing light operated by the light crew. In this instance Kathryn Mahard speaks for Tink and operates a lighted rod puppet that serves as the fairy.
Of course we expect to see the children fly and they do! The interesting thing here is the total lack of any attempt to camouflage the rigging and unrigging of the wires. Indeed, when it is necessary for flight to happen, a “flight crew” dressed in white jumpsuits and flight goggles arrives to make the connections. While clever, it is a surprisingly overt effort to downplay any illusion of magical flight.
FYT Artistic Director Jeremy Winchester’s cast is large but they move fairly easily around the skeletal, two-story set that is converted using minimal set pieces from a London townhouse to a pirate ship and then to an underground hideout.
There are lots of youngsters in this show. A host of Wendys, nine in all, are dressed in white and provide the narration linking scenes together. The lost boys move in a group but seem led by Karamoko Wysinger as Slightly. As for Wendy’s brothers, John (George Lieber) and Michael (David Patterson), they slip so easily into the Neverland routine they all but disappear among the others.
The pirates are busy both as mates to Captain Hook and as the fellows responsible for most of the flight scenes. As the sort of head pirate and Hook’s droll sidekick, Brian Haggard prompted his share of laughter Friday.
One effect that delighted the audience was the appearance of the tick-tocking crocodile that arrived just in time to devour Hook! Great effect and the kids loved it.
Curiously, this is a bit of a dark production. The set is factory-like; costumes are neutral shades of black, white, browns and tan with only an occasional flash of something brighter. This general lack of color seems odd in a show with such strong appeal to children.
Still, this is a quite challenging play to produce that few ever attempt. It would be a shame to miss it. Peter Pan continues at Flint Youth Theatre through July 28. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810-237.1530 or online at flintyouththeatre.org