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Come Fly With Me! – Review of Peter Pan

Straight from London, this fabulous new production of Peter Pan 360, theatre in the round, is playing now in Ferry Park across from the Ferry Building. This is a great show but you need to go in with the right frame of mind so allow me to outline a few things:

This is the play based on J.M. Barrie’s book Peter Pan.  This is NOT the Disney version of Peter Pan and just because people fly on wires does NOT mean this is Cirque.  This is also a play (running 2 hours, 20 min with intermission) and not a musical.  While there is some music in the show, there are no big show numbers.  The web site is serious when it says you must give serious consideration to bringing small kids to this show.  It could scare or bore them. It is a lot to sit through.

The theatre is impressive.  Intimate yet open.  It is theatre in the round with projected scenes on the scrim around the top of the arena.  There are few “bad seats” and while there are bleachers, they do have individual seats though they do not have arms.  It is an engineering marvel.

Once the show starts, you must accept a few things.  The main issue is that all the kids are 23-25 years old.  Wendy, Michael, John, Peter, Tink, the Lost Boys – they are all grown people – they kinda have to be in order to do this show so you just have to let it go and accept that reality.

The Original cast members from London are Hook, Wendy, John, Michael, the Lost Boys, the puppeteer and Jane.  This has both positive and negative results.

Tinkerbell seems to be imagined by the director as a homeless Russian Gypsy punk rocker.  It’s a little jarring at first to people who are use to Disney’s Tink but it works and I feel is closer to Barrie’s concept of the character.  A fairy who can only experience one emotion at a time which makes for a very scattered, fractured personality.

Wendy is a wonderful mixture of spunk, maturity and innocence.  I think she does a great job and is the perfect foil for Peter.

Hook (as well as Mr. Darling) is played by Jonathan Hyde.  He did a letter perfect J. Bruce Ismay in Titanic, was superb as the hunter Van Pelt in Jumanji but in this role, I just wasn’t feeling Hook.  I’m sorry.  I thought he was a little flat.  To me Hook should be larger than life.  Perhaps I was so impressed with what Dustin Hoffman did in the movie Hook but I wasn’t sure if he was suppose to be evil, a coward or a fop.  He didn’t really commit to any while dabbling with all of these in a cursory way.

The puppetry was first rate especially the Croc!  It was AMAZING!  This will scare the crap out of tiny kids especially if they are real close.  This puppet is driven by 2 people and is impressive.  Nana the dog is so expressive as well.  With the advent of more puppeteer shows such as Avenue Q and The Lion King, I don’t think audiences really mind having a person on stage with the puppet.  Your mind blocks it out after a bit.

The “underwater scene” with the mermaids has 2 gals doing ribbon ballet and it works sooo well for the beautiful but dangerous mermaids.  The ribbons form their tails however in their leotards they almost have an eel quality to them.  They are a wonderful addition.

The horrid disappointment in this show was Tiger Lily.  I heard they cast a local gal and I really wish they hadn’t.  OK, I’m going to address the elephant in the room.  I am really tired of white girls playing parts for non-white actors.  Are you seriously telling me you could not find an actress of Native American or ethnic coloring to play Tiger Lily?  If just her physical appearance wasn’t enough, then she opened her mouth.  Damn.  She sounds like a whiny High School girl wanting to hang at the mall.  Sure she’s hot and can stand flat on one foot while raising her other leg over her head without using her hands but she’s not right for the part.  This reminds me of the movies from the 30’s – 50’s that cast white women as the “Indian Princess” or the “Harem Girl” or “Nefertiti”.  I thought we moved beyond that and we have a great many gals (like the actress from LONDON) who can do this role!  It just annoyed me.  A lot.

Peter was great.  I am a HUGE supporter of having Peter Pan played by a MALE.  This whole idiot concept, started in the beginning of having a female play Peter runs against the underlying attraction and awakening sexuality between Peter and Wendy.  THANK YOU for putting a boy in the part and one who is talented and hot as well.  Thank you so much for that!  While not the original actor from London, he inhabits the role well, showing us the perfect man-child who is willful, fun, petulant, angry, creative, gentle and fierce with a sense of wonder and a deep sadness that touches you.

The supporting cast of Lost Boys, Pirates, Jane (Wendy’s daughter) and Mrs. Darling are all great and add to the overall impact of the show.

Large tents are set up next to the show tent for food and drinks.  While I ate at the Ferry Building before the show, I did get a glass of Gloria Ferrer Va de Vi.  It was a disaster.  Not the bubbles, the service.  There were 2 people in front of me.  It took “brainless chick” 8 minutes to get one lady 2 glasses of wine.  Here was my experience:

Me:  One glass of Va de Vi please

She stares

Me: Va de Vi

She stares

Me. A glass of Va de Vi

She rings up $3.50 and starts for the soda case.

Me: NO!  VA DE VI – GLORIA FERRER VA DE VI, it’s champagne, not soda and it’s $11, not  $3.50.  That is wrong.  Ummm, you swiped my card for $3.50

Her: (Gets wine) I’ll charge it right.

Me:  NO, you are doing it wrong (as she rings up $8,50).  8.50 plus 3.50 is $12, not $11.  You have charged my card too much now!  She gives me a dollar from the till.  I take my drink and my dollar and do not tip because she is a FRACKIN MORON!!!!!!  Now I only have 10 minutes left of my 20 minute intermission.  The tent is also filled with lollipops and candy displays.  The air smells like popcorn, beer and unrequited love.  I am confused by the sign at the entrance to the tent that clearly states drinks are allowed inside but food is not.  However they are peddling food inside and people are taking food inside.  I am sooo confused.  As long as I can take my drink back to my seat, I’m good.

Parents, another tip: Don’t let your little darling wear fairy wings.  Sure, they are cute but they get in the way.  We are in close quarters and if your kids wings are poking me, they are going to get bent.  Just sayin’.  Also, to reiterate, this is a play.  Lots of talking, not a ton of action.  This is old school Peter Pan, not a Disney show.  It’s still cool but just need to say again, it may bore your very small child.  If your kid cries or fusses you must take them out.  If you don’t , you will be removed.  You can watch on closed circuit TV until your kid is able to sit still and watch without talking, crying, screaming, etc.

Bottom line, this is a very fun show.  Tiger Lily isn’t there very much and she does her big pole dance number (without the pole) in the 2nd act and then is never seen again – Thank The Gods!  I recommend you give this one a gander.  I went for the 2pm matinée and even the “cheap seats” are decent and affordable.  I would definitely give this one a turn while it is in town.

Wicked – An Honest Review

(From April 2009 – I’m off to teach 7th graders about Henry VIII today)

So last night I went to see Wicked.  I have never seen it before, never saw the preview or listened to the soundtrack.  I was intrigued when the musical first came out as I had read the book first.   The Gregory Macguire book is a complex study in the back story of the witches of Oz. It gives a great deal of detail that can never be translated into a 3 hour show. So I ignore the more glaring issues such as the changed occupation of Elphaba’s father, how his mistreatment of her was fabricated, the omission of the murder of Dr. Dillamont and Madame Morrible and the most glaring, the complete changing of Fiyero’s character making him a spoiled Prince of means rather than another odd ball outsider like Elphaba.

So taking this into account I decided to judge it based on the new format, like a new story. This is The Tudors, basically the same story with modifications to fit the medium and fit the story line.

The first act fell a bit flat and was disappointing. The majority of the issues I had were with the writing rather than the acting. I realize not everyone can be Andrew Lloyd Webber. What makes Webber a genius is his ability to move the story forward through the songs. The songs in this show not only do not move the story forward, they mostly lack emotional impact and the ability to implant themselves in our psyche. No song in this show has the impact of “The Music of the Night” from The Phantom of the Opera, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from Jesus Christ Superstar, “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” from Evita or even “Memory” from Cats.

This lack of emotional follow through is detrimental to the structure of the show. In removing the traces of lesbianism that is prevalent in the book, the actors have little material to show any kind of emotional bridge that connects these women and transforms their relationship from dislike into friendship. The transitions are disconnected. The only truly impressive staging point in the first act was Elphaba discovering her power and flying above the stage.

Act Two improved greatly and really moved the story along. This is what redeemed the show for me. It was almost like the writers struggled so much with the flaws of the first act that they put all their energy into the second. While the ending of the story is different and more uplifting than the book, it is satisfying, humorous and bright.

The actor playing Elphaba, while an alternate, was amazingly good. She was also the switch in for the Chicago and Los Angeles tours. Her role carries the show and she is more than up to the task. Her voice is amazing and she works the emotional angles better than anyone in the show. Watching her is worth the cost of the ticket.

Their Glinda was average. Her character was too manic, too disjointed and too disconnected. I didn’t care about Glinda at all, in fact I found her annoying. While her character is suppose to be spoiled and self-centered – she grows into a more serious version of herself because of her friendship with Elphaba, her feelings about her “abandonment” by Elphaba and the death of Dr. Dillamond. She should display an almost Texas cheerleader type spunk and shallow social climber persona that grows into a more complete woman. This actor relied too heavily on the physical hyperactive movements and choppy transitions. There were times I just wanted to nail her feet to the floor.

The changes they made to Nessa Rose were less jarring, making her wheelchair bound instead of armless. I still think they could have done it but it worked. In the small stage time she has, they had her “wickedness” manifest through her obsession and virtual enslavement of Bock. It would have been nice to expand on this and explore this but the story is about the Wicked Witch of the West and not of the East.

On the whole, it was a nice show, great production values and costumes and an incredible leading lady. It isn’t Phantom or Evita but then, what is these days? I really feel that the kids that worship this show so much should watch Patty Lupone in Evita to understand what a real musical is.  I give it a solid B+ based on its rousing second act.