Dallas — The opinion that matters the least when choosing family activities seems to belong to the one who buys the tickets. Bigger concerns take precedence. Will the kids like it? Will they get it? Will they remember it?
Rest assured carrier of the credit card. Peter Pan 360 is a slam-dunk for your entertainment dollar.
Presented in a tent that utilizes its ceiling as a giant, circular IMAX-style projection screen, this play with music combines the fun and fearsome of the original J.M. Barrie story with modern technical capabilities and traditional theatrical forms. The tent, called the Threesixty Theatre, is set up in the northeast corner of the Dallas Arts District, and the production is presented in association with the AT&T Performing Arts Center.
Considering all of the wonderfully, complicated ingredients that the creators combined, the highest compliment that can be paid would simply be “seamless.” Although, my eight-year-old son said, “That was a combination of amazing and awesome.”
And his opinion counts more (see above).
At the center of the arena is a raised stage that allows for sneaky trap doors, beds that flip in and out of sight and a pole that can be inserted, danced on and removed. No set piece stays long because the view of the screen is paramount. When characters fly (When don’t they? This is Peter Pan, after all), they hoist aloft and the visible world flies around them.
It’s an unforgettable visual treat.
It’s easy to overlook how difficult this would be. The statistics on pixels and projectors and computer rendering are impressive indeed, but more staggering is to consider the actors in those harnesses who hold their bodies straight in beautiful balletic poses. Choreography and movement is by Gypsy Snider of the French circus outfit 7 Fingers, and direction is by Thom Southerland.
The most impressive of all, Dan Rosales, plays the boy who refuses to grow up, Peter Pan. He keeps such an athletic grace to his movements on land that the transition to air seems possible at any moment.
Rosales’ Peter adds an edge to his eagerness that makes his first moments in the third floor bedroom searching for his shadow unexpectedly compelling. It’s no foregone conclusion that this story will unfold in the usual way. He could just as well take his shadow and leave. This allows for Sarah Charles’ Wendy Darling to be a much more equal partner in their relationship. Charles’ Wendy is brighter and braver than you may remember. The chemistry they create sets the tone for the real stakes that are ever present even in Neverland.
Though the famous Crocodile is fake (fabulously rendered by two puppeteers as is the dog, Nana), the death he represents is not. This Captain Hook’s hook is sharp and cuts as deep as Tinker Bell’s jealousy or the Lost Boy’s longing for a mother. The trick is to keep the treat of humor close at hand. For Jessie Sherman’s show-stealing Tink, it’s impeccable, full-body clowning. No one can stay mad at this pretty, nose-wrinkling punk. For Stephen Carlile who plays both the Captain and Mr. Darling, it’s the grandeur of grand gesture. Perhaps that’s why he’s more successful in the pirate’s clothes than tux tails. There’s a parenting parallel there, but the swashbuckling end, though croco-dyllic, seems less dreadful than growing up in the real world.
The other parenting idyll, Mrs. Darling, is pristinely presented by Hannah Jane McMurray. It’s clear why her children would long to return to such a nurturing presence. McMurray’s Darling is cut from a Mary Poppins cloth, practically perfect even in longing for her lost children. It’s no wonder that Wendy has difficulty filling her shoes and struggling with the jealousy that the threat of Tiger Lilly (Porsha Putney) poses to Peter’s affections. Is she a just mother to him, too, or something more? And if that’s the choice presented for girls, what’s the boy equivalent? Do they only get to choose between the Captain or the dad?
These are real questions that make for real conversations with daughters, sons and even spouses in the days to come. Considering the feast of visual and acrobatic displays in this show, it’s an impressive achievement that they could find another kind of wonder to bring to the table.
Even more impressive that they can do it seamlessly.