Monday, May 10, 2010
"Peter Pan": ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG BANG!
Maybe you're over thirty five and your parents took you to see Sandy Duncan or Kathy Rigby sail above the stage as Peter Pan. Or maybe you're somewhat older and saw the movie version, as a child, or as an adult with your own children. If so, you not only gloried in the timeless story of the boy who would never grow up, but you probably also remember all the songs. Written by some of the greatest songwriters on the 1950s, songs like "I've Gotta Crow" and "I'll Never Grow Up" became part of the Broadway lexicon for the next fifty years.
All of this is prelude to tell you that the new Peter Pan, which had its American Premiere last night under a magical Big Top set up across the street from San Francisco's ferry building, is not a musical. And it's not your Mama's Pan.
This brand new cutting-edge production incorporates the latest technology, utilizes 88 speakers set up in a spectacular theater-in-the-round configuration and overhead IMAX-like projections which allow you to soar through the sky with Peter, Tink, Wendy and her brothers. It feels more like Cirque du Soleil than the Curran Theatre. There is a booming musical score, composed by Benjamin Wallfisch, but NO songs. So don't wait for them.
You won't miss them because your jaw won't stop dropping. In Act One, especially, you are staggered again and again by what can be accomplished not only by deep pockets but brilliant illusionists and story tellers who love Peter Pan as much as you do. The first flying sequence, with all five soaring above London, dodging Buckingham Palace and zooming under London Bridge (on their way to Neverland), is nothing short of spectacular.
When Captain Hook's pirates spot his enemies and fire Long Tom (the cannon) at them, the cannon balls shoot right at your head (not quite 3-D, but close). The pirates enter, each from his own separate door, in full costume (as well as each carrying a musical instrument -- clarinet, concertina, mandolin). They remind us we are in a theater, as does the tour de force (reptile division): the fearsome (female) crocodile, which looks more like a Chinese dragon with two cast members inside pedaling it. Hook is terrified of the croc, but we can't stop clapping.
Act Two slows down, but perhaps the biggest reason is Act One is so good. The story must now be resolved, and this resolution takes a little longer than it should and there are nowhere as many special effects. But you do get Tiger Lily (Heidi Buchler) doing a sensual Bollywood slinky dance number (we knew she was Indian, but THAT kind of Indian?) that would have popped the waistcoat buttons off J. M. Barrie.
Act Two also carries out the fall of Captain Hook, featuring the sword fight between Hook and Peter Pan, which isn't really all that fair since Peter is aided by overhead wires (he can't quite fall off that plank, can he?).
As perfect a boy-child as Nate Fallows is as Peter, two other characters run away with the show: Jonathan Hyde as Captain Hook (he also doubles as Mr. Darling) and the fairy with the biggest 'tude of all time: Itxaso Moreno as Tinker Bell.
No sticking this little firefly's light under a basket. Tinker Bell is vicious. She's also delicious. For this viewer Moreno flies off with the award for Best Jealous Fairy in a Supporting Role.
And Hook! Poor Hook! We feel for him when he laments: "Why is that crocodile the only female who has ever shown any interest in me?"
Oh, people will quibble and reviewers are bound to want to compare the new with the old, Nate Fallows with Mary Martin, songs with no songs. But make no mistake: this Peter Pan will make other Pans feel like yesterday's plum pudding. The musical will always be magical, but your kids will probably prefer to see this one.
RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG BANG!
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards the threesixty production of Peter Pan Four Stars with two BANGLES of PRAISE. The BANGLES are given to reward the creative team: Sets, 3D, Puppetry, Illusions, Choreography, Direction and so much more. It is the highest award we can think of without granting Five Stars. Act Two's inability to live up to Act One -- the extra length required to pull all the pieces together -- is what makes Five Stars impossible.
But everything else is there: spectacle, sound, acting, acrobatics, costuming, lighting, story, staging and, best of all, a sense of wonder. Peter will never grow up and, if we're lucky, neither will we.
The ThreeSixty Theatre
Ferry Park, San Francisco (next to Justin Herman Plaza)