Fort Worth — Clap if you believe in fairies (the tiny flying kind with gossamer wings), never growing up and flying! If you're not clapping, then keep your cranky self far away from Peter Pan at Casa Mañana Children’s Theatre because you will be called upon to believe all of that, plus save a fading fairy from dying.
We live in a time when toys like Legos get their own movie and superheroes come to life on film and in video games with a plethora of dazzling special effects. Even in live theater geared to younger audiences, the world's most beloved nanny, Mary Poppins, magically disappears into the rafters, Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang actually flies, and petals delicately drop from an enchanted rose. That's why it was so heart-warming to know that kids can still be enthralled when Peter Pan flies and makes Wendy, John and Michael fly, too, and can clap as hard as they can to keep a fairy from meeting her demise!
Casa Manana's Peter Pan isn't the Disney version, it's Mary Martin's Peter Pan, or more recently, Cathy Rigby's, originally conceived, directed and choreographed for Broadway by Jerome Robbins based on the story of the boy who refused to grow up written by Sir James Barrie. Noah Putterman and Jeremy Dumont take on Robbins' previous roles as director and choreographer, respectively.
Under Putterman's direction, the cast tells the familiar story with innocence and charm, and most importantly, fun. Stage movement is energetic, clever and mined for laughs. Dumont's choreography remains true to Robbins original choreography and is as delightful now as it was then.
Just in case it's been a while, here's a refresher. Peter Pan and his personal fairy, Tinkerbell, drop in one night on the Darling family, Wendy, John and Michael, in search of Peter's shadow, which Mrs. Darling snatched and stuffed in a bureau drawer when she thought Peter was a prowler. It turns out Peter is a frequent "guest" at the Darlings to eavesdrop on the children's bedtime stories. But he missed the ending to Cinderella, so in addition to reclaiming his shadow, he wants to know what happened to Cinderella and Prince Charming, not only for his own curiosity, but he's left his band of Lost Boys in suspense back in Never-Neverland.
After meeting the Darlings, Peter thinks it's a splendid idea for them all to go to Neverland with him, where Wendy will become mom to the Lost Boys, tell them stories and make them pockets. After a little lesson in flying, they're off! Once in Neverland, they are subjected to a band of goofball pirates led by the terrible Captain Hook and Tiger Lily and her tribe of silly Indians. And Wendy learns about Peter's plans to resist adulthood in any way, shape or form.
Alyssa Robbins continues the tradition of having a female play the perpetual boy, and she arrives through the nursery window in a sprinkling of fairy dust, earning applause from the audience for her entrance. She's a ball of energy, bravado and confident poses throughout the show whether her feet are on the stage, the fireplace mantel or in the air. You can find dozens of Peter Pan flying mishaps by searching YouTube, but happily, the Saturday matinee on opening weekend had none. Robbins expertly leads the cast in the two best musical numbers, "I Gotta Crow" and "I Won't Grow Up."
As the Darling children, just try to keep your eyes off of the littlest Darling, Stephen Newton. He is adorable. Be sure to watch him as they celebrate when Peter gets the best of the pirates—hilarious and the cutest thing ever. His older brother, John, played by Hunter Hall in the Saturday performances, is a little more stoic, but quite impressed with finding himself airborne and all the adventures in Neverland. Emma Colwell is a sweet, motherly Wendy, who's taken with Peter until she realizes he will always stay a child.
The pirates are led by the new comedy duo, David Coffee and Greg Dulcie, as Captain Hook and Smee. Coffee brings his natural talent for comedy to the role of Hook and makes great use of his hooked appendage for sight gags. As for Dulcie, there is no better, or funnier, pirate in the Metroplex. Costume designer Tammy Spencer must keep his green striped leggings and sandals on standby.
The playbill doesn't give credit to the actor who plays Nana, the dog, but special kudos to whoever that is performing on hands and knees. However, Nana is just a little bit on the barky side.
Samuel Rushen is the designer behind the lush lighting and the quaint scenic design of the nursery set. He makes clever and efficient use of the nursery beds once the action moves to Neverland. The only time the set relocates is to the deck of Captain Hook's ship, which looks a little bare for a working ship. Not many ropes and such, but Hook has a fabulous chaise lounge.
Spencer's costumes look like they leaped off the pages of a storybook with attention to detail from Wendy's hair ribbon and Mary Janes to giving each pirate his own personal style.
Casa Manana's Peter Pan is a flight of fancy for adults and children of all ages, and a welcome escape for those who love the idea of a place where time is never planned. It's also a great reminder that a good story never goes out of style. Clap if you believe!