By Karen Isaacs
The Broadway musical, Peter Pan, is getting an absolutely wonderful production at the Connecticut Repertory Theater on the UConn campus in Storrs through July 3. This is not just a production that children will enjoy; the inventiveness and the excellent performances will delight everyone.
If you saw — and either loved or were disappointed by — the NBC live broadcast last December of the show, you should still see this.
What sets it apart? First of all Peter is actually played by a young actor, Riley Costello who can easily pass for 12 or 13 years old but has a load of credits and is a skilled performer. He brings a veracity to the role that a more mature woman playing a boy has difficulty managing. Yes — the play and the musical has traditionally featured women in the part (from Maud Adams to Mary Martin to Cathy Rigby) — but given the number of talented young men there is no reason for it. It also makes it easier to suspend your disbelief and immerse yourself in the story.
Secondly is the delicious Captain Hook (and Mr. Darling) of Terrence Mann. Hook is a deceptively difficult role partly because so many of us have the image of the talented Cyril Ritchard who originated it and played on the early TV versions firmly in our heads. Hook must be comic but a tad frightening, reveal insecurities underneath, and mix both “camp” and sophistication. He also has several tricky patter songs to navigate. Mann’s Hook is utterly delightful. He keeps a wicked gleam in his eye at all times. If I had a quibble it would be with his Mr. Darling, which stuck an occasional false note.
Many of the remainder of the cast are students and recent graduates, but they do an excellent job. I particularly liked Jonathan Cobrda as Smee, Hook’s “right hand man”. I hope he will soon get his Equity card so he can move on to bigger things. Maggie Bera was an excellent Wendy, Raegan Roberts and Sydney Goodwin were very good as twin lost boys, and Annie Wallace was also good as Tiger Lily.
The musical Peter Pan began life as a play with music for Mary Martin in 1954. It’s creative process was difficult; though many of the songs were written by Moose Charlap with lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, the decision was made to make a full musical and Jule Styne was brought in to compose additional songs with Betty Comden and Adolph Green writing the lyrics. It did land on Broadway successfully, directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins who also got credit for adapting it. While it sticks closely to J. M. Barrie’s original play, it does add the ending that Barrie included in the later novel version of the play, Peter and Wendy.
A number of songs became well known — “I Won’t Grow Up,” “Neverland,” “Tender Shepherd,” and “I Gotta Crow” among others.
Director/Choreographer Cassie Abate has assembled a professional creative production team. Tim Brown, the scenic & projection designer, does an excellent job with the multiple sets in this show. He has created a realistic nursery but has made Neverland a place reminiscent of a child’s coloring book. Plus he has also created a wonderful pirate ship. Costume designer Lisa Loen has given the boys individuality so they do not blend into a group — each has his own distinct look which helps him have a distinct character. Captain Hook’s costume is appropriately over-the-top; it reminded me of the costume of a fop in a restoration comedy.
Credit must also be given Daniel Moctezuma, the music director and conductor. This is a well played and well sung show.
Peter Pan is just what you hope to see at CRT — the seamless integration of excellent Equity performers working with less experienced performers who rise to the occasion combined with talented production teams that use imagination and creativity instead of huge budgets.
Peter Pan runs through July 3 at the Harriet Jorgensen Theater on the UConn campus in Storrs. For tickets call 860-486-2113 or visit crt.uconn.edu.