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'Peter Pan and the Wendy Lady' adapted by Brandon White

Now onstage at Toronto's Campbell House, 160 Queen Street West, Toronto.

Credit: White Mills Theatre Company. Pictured Breanna Maloney as Peter Pan

Joe Szekeres

“An appealing and charmingly immersive fantasy story, delightful performances, and a production that makes me smile.”

Upon entering the historic backdrop of Toronto’s Campbell House, Solomon (Scott Garland) greets guests at a podium and passes dance cards to the audience. We’re told not to lose the cards and to wait quietly in the lobby. With Solomon’s booming voice shouting: “Neeeexxxttt”, the next audience member approaches and gives their name for the evening.

We have been invited to the Debutante Ball and the coming out tradition of introducing eighteen-year-old Wendy Darling (Ella Mazur) to the world. Before we enter the celebration, the guests/audience are taken to the drawing room where Wendy’s father, George (Scott Moore), converses with James (Spencer Schunk), a dashing, accoutered young man who has come to win Wendy’s hand. The audience is then taken to a cloakroom where George’s wife, Mary (Barb Schleffer) and son, John (Jonas Trottier), welcome us and take our coats and bags.

We are then instructed to climb the stairs to enter the sitting room where the ball will take place. On our way, we pass Wendy and her younger brother, Michael (Jessi Ellgood), chatting about the ball and the stories Wendy likes to write. Wendy shares with her brother that a publisher rejected her most recent story. The two are surprised to see the audience there, and Wendy instructs her brother to lead us into the drawing room.

A two-piece orchestra band plays ‘The Four Seasons’ while we enter and can sit in chairs. While waiting, a black-shadowed figure crawls out from somewhere. (I won’t spoil it here) At first, I wondered if this might be Darling’s dog, Nana. But it’s not because the dog is in the backyard. This shadowed figure moves quietly around the room and on the floor, sometimes playing with shoelaces, eyeing people, and rolling around. It then struck me that this is a shadow – and as the story progesses you’ll know whose it is.

Mrs. Darling introduces her daughter, Wendy, to all of us. However, challenges occur, ruining the Debutante Ball's custom. Mary begins to read one of her stories out loud to the guests to showcase Wendy’s talent as a writer and appease the audience. It is then we learn about Wendy’s rejected story of Peter Pan (Breanna Maloney), his lost shadow (Emily Trace), Captain Hook (Schunk), Tinkerbell (Shannon Mills), the Lost Boys, and the Buccaneers. Even the Crocodile (Schleffer) pays a visit, and a sense of justice is instilled at the conclusion if you know what happens in the original story. That sound effect made the audience laugh approvingly.

The rest of the story deals with moving around Campbell House as we fly to various parts of Neverland via pixie dust.

The visual look of the story remains gorgeous, thanks to Brandon White’s meticulous attention to costume detail and colour. Captain Hooks’ clothing and Wendy’s ball gown are only two examples. The grime and filth of the Lost Boys’ clothing is spot on. Ella Mazur’s choreographed dance movements are stylish when the ball begins. There is one moment when a couple of audience members are encouraged to participate in the dance. Rob Carruthers and Rae Gallimore’s musical arrangements underscore the splendour of the look of Edwardian Toronto. I’ve always liked hearing Vivialdi’s ‘Four Seasons’; the two-person accompaniment of Rob Carruthers and Rae Gallimore creates a regal atmosphere. Shannon Mills’ musical direction of choral singing remains charming, especially when hearing the harmony work.

There are tricky moments regarding lighting that didn’t always work for me. For example, the audience spends some time in the upstairs drawing room watching the confusion emanating from the debutante ball to Wendy sharing her unpublished story. The lighting works well for the ball; however, the shadowy effect to create a dreamlike sequence when Peter is introduced bothered my eyes. I had difficulty focusing on the primary action because the shadows prevented me from doing so.

Brandon White creatively adapts this iconic J. M. Barrie story for a twenty-first-century audience. A couple of modern-day references made me smile. My guest told me that much of the original text appears in this adaptation. There are times that once again made me smile as several of the characters genuinely understand the meaning of the words and confidently speak the text.

White subtly co-directs the production along with Cassie Davidson and Shannon Mills. They have favourably created a whimsical place where the audience suspends disbelief. The audience has seemingly entered a playful, mostly fun but sometimes harrowing and lonely environment. At times, they move quickly from one room to the next, and I’m amazed at how the cast is not out of breath when moving up and down the stairs.
The performances are delightful. Once again, I couldn’t help but continue smiling and watching these J. M. Barrie character icons spring forth with exuberance.

Although I was never a fan of the Peter Pan story, several dynamite productions have made me change my mind over the years.

Breanna Maloney is a spritely sprite of a Peter Pan. As Wendy, Ella Mazur maintains a grounded performance of a young woman on the cusp of adulthood in her journey of self-discovery of who she is. Scott Moore’s George (and Wendy’s father) sharply represents the values of the Edwardian era, in which everyone had their place within the world. Barb Scheffler’s Mary (Wendy’s mother) is a far too doting Edwardian mother who knows her place within the world and feels responsible when the debutante ball abruptly ends.

As Mary’s siblings, Jonas Trottier’s John and Jessi Ellgood’s Michael offer two distinct performances. Trottier’s John is like Moore’s George: a man of values who stands up for what is right. Trottier is amusing in his performance in the kitchen scene and enjoys the attention paid to him by the two attendants. Ellgood’s Michael is quite fascinating in physicality. There’s an impish, childlike innocence of Ellgood that remains believable throughout the production.

It took me a few moments to connect that Shannon Mills was playing Tinker Bell. Her free-flowing emerald gown looks great, but there’s nothing in Mills’ first entrance to denote she is the pixie fairy. Perhaps some glitter hanging in mid-air or a bit more on her costume? Spencer Schunk’s brief appearance as James re-enforces the young Edwardian male who wants to sweep the young Wendy off her feet and whisk her away to a world of lovely promises. Having Schunk play Captain Hook in Wendy’s story was clever. Schunk’s Hook is a devilish brute of a monster at first, intent on terrorizing the others with his pirate Buccaneers in the other world of Neverland. Schunk never overplays Hook’s fear of the crocodile. It remains charmingly childish each time Hook experiences it.

Having Barb Scheffler play the Crocodile was also a good choice. Again, Scheffler’s Mary is so completely doting as a mother figure that her Mary comes across as suffocating. If you know Barrie’s story, you know what the Crocodile does. Scheffler appears to have great fun leading her Crocodile to that moment of ‘suffocation.’

The enthusiasm of the supporting players adds unique magic to creating a faraway land of ‘pure imagination,’ as Willy Wonka once sang. I especially liked those moments staged downstairs where we are on board Captain Hooks’ ship. It is just purely terrific to watch actors having great fun bringing characters to life with zest and vitality.

And Another Thought: Toronto’s Campbell House's historical backdrop has again been an excellent choice to stage an imaginative story. I’m constantly amazed at the energy this cast expends, running up and down the stairs and moving from scene to scene. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes because there is a lot of walking up and down stairs.

On this opening night, there was plenty of space for audiences to sit on chairs. As the show continues and the audience grows, please be aware that there may not be ample seating on these nights.

A lovely way to spend an afternoon or evening of theatrical entertainment.

Running time: two hours and 15 minutes with no intermission.

‘Peter Pan and the Wendy Lady’ runs until March 23 at the Campbell House Museum, 160 Queen Street West, Toronto. For tickets:

Adaptation, Co-Direction, Production & Costume Design by Brandon White
Assistant Director & Fight Coordination by Cassie Davidson
Co-Direction & Musical Direction by Shannon Mills
Musical Arrangements by Rob Carruthers & Rae Gallimore
Choreographer & Poster Illustration by Ella Mazur
Production Assistant & Portraits Edited by Daniel Tofach
Assistant Stage Manager ~ Iris Asserlind

Performers: WENDY DARLING ~ Ella Mazur JOHN DARLING ~ Jonas Trottier MICHAEL DARLING ~ Jessi Elgood MARY DARLING/THE CROCODILE ~ Barb Scheffler GEORGE DARLING/MR. SMEE ~ Scott Moore PETER PAN ~ Breanna Maloney TINKER BELL ~ Shannon Mills LIZA/SLIGHTLY ~ Cassie Davidson TOOTLES ~ Shelby Handley NIBS ~ Annie Roberts JAMES/CAPTAIN HOOK ~ Spencer Schunk BILL JUKES ~ Anthony Botelho NOODLER ~ Austin Larusson SOLOMON/CAW/SKYLIGHTS/THE MOON ~ Scott Garland THE TIDE ~ Manon Ens-Lapointe THE SHADOW/ODILE ~ Emily Trace

MUSICIAN 1/ODETTE ~ Rae Gallimore MUSICIAN 2/MULLINS ~ Rob Carruthers

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