Review by Tulis McCall
(10 Mar 2011)
This is a wonderful sprawling show. It will keep you thinking and watching and it may, as it did me, bump you off the hay wagon more than once.
This is the prequel to the story of Peter Pan, based on the novel by Dave Barry. It is imaginative in the extreme - both visually and text wise. On this postage stamp of a stage the actors use every day items – long ropes and tall ladders – to create an entire ship, and in the second act the simplest of set pieces and a trunk to create an island that will be named Neverland.
This show is precariously close to children’s theatre, which isn’t a bad thing. Having performed the same for a few years I know the deep dark secret about this genre. Children’s Theatre has to be smart enough for parents to sit through, and much of it is. Think about the story of Peter Pan for instance. What adult doesn’t know it? And who doesn’t clap their hands on occasion to prove that they believe?
In this story there are two trunks, one with sand and one with a magic substance sent from the stars. The two trunks head off on two ships – one of which is The Neverland. They are each intercepted by Black Stache (Christian Borle), a Groucho Marx clone in all the best ways, who is after the treasure. Everyone ends up on a deserted – sort of – island where Molly (Celia Keenan-Bolger) becomes a mother to the various young boys from the assorted crews. It is here that the one known only as Boy (Adam Chanler-Berat) becomes Peter Pan and acquires extraordinary powers. And there is a little sparkly creature that makes a debut.
The first act is infinitely stronger than the second, which seems to take on a personality of its own and gallivants around like a Vaudevillian tale gone mad. I must admit I got lost in all the folderol. The actors, bless them all every one, are not lost for a second. They transform themselves and the stage over and over and over without missing a beat. This is ensemble work at its best.
Rick Elice doesn’t wait for you to get the puns, the contemporary references, or the Peter Pan foreshadowing. He hurtles along like a three masted schooner in a hurricane, and you best strap yourself to the mast if you expect to survive the journey. This is superb story telling – I just wish the story itself had been a bit clearer.
As it is, an evening spent here requires pin-ball wizard skills of observation, and if you don’t have them, I expect you know a young person who might. This is just the sort of production that carries the theatre bug by which so many of us were bitten. Feel free to pass on the contagion to a new generation!
What the popular press said...
"This show never stops flying."
Ben Brantley for NY Times
"For all its pleasures, there are issues. The chief one is that it seems infatuated with its own ingeniousness -- charming cheekiness turns into exhausting overkill."
Joe Dziemianowicz for NY Daily News
"At best, it's high fun. At worst, it's mind-numbing."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"An imaginative and wildly entertaining adaptation."
David Sheward for Back Stage
"Appropriates one of fiction's iconic characters and reduces him to a vague, uninteresting figure, and his journey to an occasion for wise-guy jokes."
Robert Feldberg for Back Stage
"A wonderful time for one and all, .... a magical show in every radiant way."
Michael Summers for Newsroom Jersey
"The show might be less awkward if it actually were the musical it wants to be."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety