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Peter Pan

This new production of J.M. Barrie's classic story is mostly notable for its high-tech special effects.

Jonathan Hyde and Nate Fallows
in Peter Pan
(© Kevin Berne)
The tale of J.M. Barrie's beloved boy who won't grow up has been a relatively indestructible brand for over a century, successfully tweening through various plays, musicals, films, and television adaptations. Now, another version of Peter Pan is sprinkling digital fairy dust like mad at the newly installed threesixty theatre at Ferry Park on the Embarcadero. Unfortunately, however, this high-tech production adds little to the legacy other than some nifty special effects.

Tanya Roder's script is a Cliff Notes telling of the story and offers no new insights to the characters. But the larger problem is the music by Benjamin Wallfisch, which is mostly cinematic instrumentals except for a couple of limited yo-ho pirate shanties and the couplet of a somewhat unreassuring lullaby. Only the totally uninitiated will watch the preparations for the Darling children's virgin take-off and not be silently humming "Neverland" or "I'm Flying."

Usually played for practicality's sake by an adult woman, this Peter -- arriving in the teen idol form of Nate Fallows -- can finally strip off his shirt. The handsome young actor is all bright smiles and spunky energy, but he turns in an earnest but ultimately limited performance. Abby Ford is an almost too-plaintive Wendy, who does not transition successfully to adulthood in the final scenes; while David Poyner and Arthur Wilson, as Michael and John Darling, look much too grown-up for their parts (as do the rest of the so-called Lost Boys).

The production's saving grace arrives with serious sass the moment Basque-born Itxaso Moreno lands on her booted feet as Tinker Bell. This is one butch and hilarious fairy! Jonathan Hyde also delivers the delicious over-the-top goods in the plummy dual role of Mr. Darling/Captain Hook, channeling choice bits of Alan Rickman and Tim Curry along the way.

Noteworthy, too, are Heidi Buehler, whose sensually athletic dance of Tiger Lily's affection for Peter, as choreographed by Fleur Darkin, verges on the brink of too risqué for the obviously kid-targeted show, and Mohsen Nouri, who expertly and amusingly gives life to the puppets of Nana the dog, a Neverland ostrich, and other characters.

Humans and puppets aside, the real star of the show is the technology and it is the one place where the show delivers on the hype. Using the roof of the tent as a 360-degree screen, designer William Dudley (who also handled costume and set design duties) has created a marvelous environment for the story. It is palpably exciting, if a bit vertiginous, to have the roof of the Darling attic lift away and watch five people zoom hand-in-hand across the rooftops of London, dodging Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square and swooping under London Bridge and into the clouds. The effects are also cleverly used for sequences above and below the waters around Neverland for aerialist mermaid chasing and derring-do in the rigging of Captain Hook's ship.

If the production team had put as much care into the storytelling as it did into the technology, this could have been a Peter Pan that truly soars past the first star to the left and straight on 'til morning.


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