Peter Pan Musical adapted by Piers Chater Robinson

Staged at Oshawa's Regent Theatre and produced by Mansfield Entertainment

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Joe Szekeres

Do I believe ‘Peter Pan’ deserves another round of storytelling? What’s different or unique this time around?

We all know the story of Peter Pan and the Darling children as they travel to Neverland to battle Captain James Hook. It might be the J. M. Barrie story itself, the Disney animated film, the early/mid 60s musical that seemed to tour forever (Mary Martin as the original Peter Pan) or various versions of the play (one version was produced at Port Perry’s Theatre on the Ridge a few summers ago).

Ergo I don’t really have to give that much of a plot summary. Simply put, it’s a story about young children and the inevitability that we all have to grow up sometime. For some, it becomes a natural part of life while others (like the title character) do not want to grow up.

From what I understand, Oshawa’s Mansfield Entertainment secured the rights to the musical with the blessings of the adaptor Piers Chater Robinson. The poster for the production asks the question that is also one of the titles of the songs from the Second Act:

‘Do You Believe?’

Well, yes, I do believe in the power of theatre to move an audience. Theatre reviewers, critics, bloggers, and lovers always want to encourage audiences to go to the theatre to see a production. We don’t write for a theatre company, or the actors, or the production team. We write for the audience to let them know what we thought with the hope it will encourage others to attend.

When a company calls itself professional, it must also be able to take all kinds of feedback.

And was this opening night 2-hour and 35-minute performance of ‘Peter Pan Musical’ with tickets starting at $44 with tax (they go up in price the closer you get to the stage) worth it? I sat in these seats near the back of the auditorium.

For the most part, yes, but there are some quibbles.

‘Peter Pan’ needs a good-sized stage to tell a story and it was a wise choice to stage it at Oshawa’s Regent Theatre. There’s no mention of a Set Designer in the program but that Mansfield Entertainment provided Sets and Props. The pre-show music was a bit puzzling as I heard a few ABBA synthesizer melodies from MAMMA MIA. I couldn’t figure out the connection between ABBA’s music and Peter Pan. Hmmmmmm.
There were a few elements that worked well on the stage. Stage right is three beds angled which is the nursery in the Darling home. Stage left is the window angled and adorned with lace curtains from which Peter will enter and the children leave to fly to Neverland. One thing that kept annoying me throughout that first scene and at the end when we return to the nursery. Every time Peter entered through the window, it kept shaking and, at one point in the last scene of the second act I thought it would fall over. Can that somehow be stabilized because it spoils the illusion of wanting me to believe the sturdiness of the window if it wobbles.

Lace curtains adorn the window. Lined wallpaper behind the children’s beds and the windows give some depth to the room. What was a nice touch was this backdrop slowly spun around for each of the scenes which added further depth to the setting of each scene. Bright green and fall colours clearly caught my attention and made the scene come alive.

Hanging centre stage is a rectangular screen used for projections which add nuance to each scene. It was fine for me, but in the second act when Hook is at sea and we see the water behind, there are moments when it is apparent that we’re watching a film as it stops and starts.

Andrew Nasturzio’s Costume Designs are eye-catching and highly colourful for the entire company. I must applaud Nasturzio for the hours that were probably spent in searching, coordinating and measuring each cast member for fittings.

Colin Hughes’ lighting design finely accentuates each of the scenes whether it’s full lighting or effective hiding in the shadows. There were a couple of times when some of the ensemble were in the shadows and I couldn’t see their faces. Thanks to Dale Wakefield for the clear audio design. Again, there were moments where some of the dialogue was not clearly enunciated by some of the actors and I couldn’t hear it. That isn’t Wakefield’s concern, however, it’s the actors.

At times, Tristan Matthews’ choreography was rather simplistic to the point it reminded me of some similar dance moves one might find in a high school musical production. Concluding a dance number with jazz hands didn’t cut it for me. One of the highlights of the production was the solid synchronistic work of Miguel Esteban and Diana Chappell as Music and Vocal Directors. Thankfully, save for one moment in Act One, there was never any overpowering of the seven-piece band members in the company musical ensemble numbers.

Another highlight of the opening night production was the array of youthful up-and-coming 18 cast member talent that I hope to see in other productions soon. Space will not allow me to mention each, but I do want to highlight a few.

Jeff Hookings becomes a dastardly devilish Captain Hook. Laura Denmar’s compassionately sensitive Mrs. Darling shone through beautifully in the last scene of Act Two. Enya Watson’s lovely singing voice coupled with a truly believable performance as the young Wendy on the verge of becoming a young woman was fascinating to see play out before me. As the title character, Kyra Weichert effectively assumes that youthfully genteel sense of abandonment in only wanting to focus on play and having Wendy as his ‘mother’ figure. In the last scene of Act Two, Weichert and Watson nicely juxtapose and share how growing up becomes a natural part of life.

Joan Mansfield’s direction of the production at times is uneven. There are moments where the actors are simply placed on stage in what I call the ‘park and bark’ or ‘park and sing’ with no believability in how to get from Point A to Point B. Additionally, at times, there are a few moments where the play does come to life and then that needed energy quickly evaporates and dissipates. I felt the cast was uniquely sensing this on opening night and they were doing their utmost to bring the play back to life where it should be. Hopefully, as performances continue, that sense of the appeal of the life force can be reignited.

Running Time: 2 hours and 35 minutes approximately.

I kept my mask on in the theatre as did others I saw around me. However, there were many in the audience who did not wear masks.

‘Peter Pan, The Musical’ runs to July 24 at the Regent Theatre, 50 King Street East Oshawa. Tickets range from $44 - $67 with taxes included. For further information, please visit www.regenttheatre.ca or call 905-721-3399 extension 2.

PETER PAN MUSICAL
Produced by James and Joan Mansfield and MANSFIELD ENTERTAINMENT
Book, Music and Lyrics by Piers Chater Robinson. Adapted from the play by J. M. Barrie
Directed by Joan Mansfield
Music Director: Miguel Esteban. Vocal Director: Diana Chappell
Lighting: Colin Hughes
Sound: Dale Wakefield
Choreographer: Tristan Matthews
Stage Manager: Kit Bauldry

Featuring: Kayleigh Cerezo, Kaitlyn Coulter, Mercedes Davy, Laura Denmar, Peyton Garcia, Annabella Gulliver-Azevedo, Celeste Hauser, Tanner Homonko, Jeff Hookings, Brogan Nelson, Kelly Preeper, Jordan Robertson-Reid, Kelsey Robinson, Rebecca Rodley, Lucy Sanci, Amy Sarjeant, Enya Watson, Kyra Weichert

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