Peter Pan and Tinker Bell – A Pirates Christmas
Holiday Panto tradition continues at Pasadena Playhouse.
The Boy who refuses to grow up is back…and not only is he airborne, he's singing Rachel Platten's "Fight Song," too. Entering its fourth season at the Pasadena Playhouse, the holiday panto Peter Pan and Tinkerbell – A Pirates Christmas whisks audiences off to Neverland for yet another showdown of Pan vs. Hook. As this is a Lythgoe Family Productions' staging in the style of the traditional British panto, the journey includes an assortment of present-day pop songs, yuletide favorites, audience interaction, and, of course, Christmas cheer.
The holiday spirit is very much present, and the Playhouse is decked out for the occasion both onstage and off. As delighted as the younger set will undoubtedly be to watch recognizable Disney Channel actors cavorting around onstage, this "Pirates Christmas", written by Kris Lythgoe, runs long and could use a bit more fairy dust.
In this rendition, Hook's crew is looking to kidnap Tiger, double-cross Tinker Bell, kill Peter, and turn the Lost Boys into pirates (not necessarily in that order). Wendy, John, and Michael accompany Peter on this "awfully big adventure" to help foil Hook's plot and because the Lost Boys need a mother…a role that Wendy is only too happy to assume as long as Peter will be their father. She asks that they return to London in time for Christmas.
Parvesh Cheena's Smee is the pixieish narrator and ringmaster, but unfortunately he has to work awfully hard to move this ship forward. A particularly tough scene finds Smee assembling Hook's crew out of group of dimwitted scallywags who resemble Michael Jackson (played by Ricky Jaime), Elvis Presley (Chris Jarosz), and a hippie guy making Beatles jokes (Mason Trueblood).
Director Bonnie Lythgoe's production is heavily cast with young performers including a rotating team of Lost Boys who sing "Live While We're Young" on self-balancing hover-board scooters. The Darling siblings Wendy (Sabrina Carpenter), John (Corey Fogelmanis), and Michael (August Maturo) are all castmates on Disney Channel's Girl Meets World, but in this show, the boys have precious little to do.
Carpenter certainly has a powerful belt, but not all of the songs showcase her voice to its greatest advantage. Since she competes for Peter Pan's affections with Tinkerbell and Tiger Lilly, the character of Wendy is frequently a doormat damsel in distress. Consequently, there's little opportunity for Carpenter to display any spunk or humor. As Peter Pan, Kevin Quinn is slightly less hamstrung by his role. Quinn gets some fun exchanges with Chrissie Fit's Tinkerbell, who scoots around on Heelies and unleashes barrages of rapid-fire Spanish when she gets angry.
John O'Hurley, who mugged expertly in the L.A. engagement of Monty Python's Spamalot in 2009, is still at the top of his game. Towering over everyone onstage with mischievous eyes alive, O'Hurley knows when to grumble, when to glare, and when to fulminate. The former Family Feud host spoofs his game show alter ego, eggs on the audience, and works comic magic into every line. Set Designer Michael Orland adorns his London Townscapes and Neverland island vistas with plenty of color. Disco ball lights and piped in snow make for some scene establishers, and the flying effects provided by ZFX, Inc. are delightful.
Kudos also to the American Family Foundation Dog Therapy Program at Children's Hospital Los Angeles for providing a pair of Newfoundlands to make cameos as the Darling's canine nanny, Nana. Weighing in at 190 pounds, Nana is the size of a loveseat and barely has to move to filch the scene from any two-legged cast member. As O'Hurley, in his second role as Mr. Darling, was leading the canine offstage, he muttered "Next time we're getting a lap dog."
Peter Pan may stubbornly refuse to grow up. And the audience to which he has the most enduring appeal, children, are the best audience for this production of A Pirates Christmas.