by Desert Stages Theatre
Keeping us all believing in fairies and never growing up
too much is James M. Barrie’s immortal Peter Pan, and this classic
musical version by Carolyn Leigh and Mark Charlap gets a magnificent
reincarnation thanks to Desert Stages Theatre in Scottsdale where four casts in
rep take on the roles of pirates, lost boys, Indians, a variety of exotic
beasts, a jealous fairy, and the Darling family.
I was able to catch two of the casts during an extended run
of the show, both of which were led by Melanie Heredia in the title role.
Melanie is a great combination of playful, amusing (especially as the “mystery
lady” taunting Hook), and sad for the life he might have led when she
nostalgically sings the lullaby once sung by his mother, the Distant Melody,
before saying goodbye to his Lost Boys.
Alas, Peter might have to say goodbye to everyone if the
dastardly Captain Hook gets his way. Here we’ve got a great actress and actor
in the different casts. Emily Stevens is a hoot as Hook who has great
natural comedic skills throughout, including a hilarious duet with Peter as the
veiled “mystery lady,” and whose yearning to do Peter in has her just barely
forcing her hook away from the sleeping boy, then stealing his teddy bear and
gleefully making it wave goodbye. She works well with her fellow pirates,
including the terrific team with her Smee, the amusing Cade Frankson.
Then there’s Emily’s big finale that required a lot of improv when I saw it.
As Hook declared he was going to grab a bomb from the barrel, the littlest
pirate (Andrew Baiamonte) who was supposed to hand Hook the bomb from
inside the barrel suddenly popped out and cried, “There’s no bomb!” Emily
reacted quickly to the prop malfunction, picking up Andrew and using him as the
bomb, threatening the rest of the cast before finally handing off the
innocent-looking explosive device to Peter Pan.
On the other Hook, David Buehrle makes his grand
entrance in the arms of his beloved pirates who carry him like he’s on a
litter before plopping him onto the stage. David is a master of physical comedy
and timing who delights in taunting all his prisoners, ponders the mysteries of
the universe when his “boink” sound effect after hitting Smee on the head is
delayed a bit, shrieks “Oh my goodness!” and pushes Smee (a brilliant turn
by Sam MacDonald as Hook’s right hand man) out of the way when the
chips are down, uses Smee’s butt to cool off his fingers when he touches the
hot mushroom (giving Smee a bit of a pause), encourages Cecco (Maxwell Chase)
to go into the ship’s cabin of certain death by playfully shadow boxing him,
and chides Starkey (Ethan Smart) into the same demise with “Oh,
Starkey, don’t be a girl.” The levity paused only when his sword went flying
into the audience. After a pale Hook saw that no one was injured, he had to
grovel and beg for the kind return of his sword from a playful audience member,
with Hook expressing his hope that he might keep his last real hand during the
Elsewhere, Haley Johnson is an exceptionally sweet
and motherly Wendy who delivers a humorous Hamlet synopsis, with the
highly talented Sierra Corbett as the other Wendy who uses her voice so
perfectly both talking and singing-wise. Indian leader Tiger Lily is played by
the magnetic and highly expressionable Alana Doyle and then by the
warriorish and athletic Genai Cavender, both strong dancers leading the
Indians through the well-choreographed and executed Ugg-a-Wug scene. Chance
Garland played John, and the character of Michael was split between Zachary
Denious and Riley Glick as Wendy’s charismatic young brothers
excited at the adventures Peter takes them on. Lauryn Martin and Kristin
Alba deliver nice performances as Mrs. Darling (Mr. Darling being written
out of this one), while Natasha Milligan and Lindsay Blaire as the
Darling’s maid Liza embark happily on adventures of their own, and Sarah
Pansing and Jillian Pond are determined crocodiles who doggedly scoot
across the stage in pursuit of Hook.
From the leads to the smallest lost boys, Indians, and melodramatically vicious pirates, it’s remarkable how talented these casts are. Tons of great young actors who make every moment count and are always on it. They do it all in Desert Stages Theatre’s theatre in the round which isn’t really equipped for flying, but they rigged up some rigs to at least have the fairy-dusted flyers hover and sway over the stage. Andrew Witcher’s set is terrific, using every square inch of the stage and corners to great effect. Director Tiffany Atkinson, a eighteen-year-old Desert Stages alum, did an amazing job with this one, capturing so many emotions, paying careful attention al all details, and choreographing the show with Assistant Director Desiree Vaughan for several dynamic dance numbers, rounding out a production I would have gladly seen a few more times.
Performed February 20 - March 27, 2010
~ Cast 1 ~
Peter Pan: Melanie Heredia
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