Written by Daniella Litvak
During its long history, Peter Pan has acquired quite a few traditions. Mysterium Theater’s production of the show strikes the right balance between using some of those conventions while also being unafraid to embrace the more recent trends or go in entirely new directions.
The first step away from the traditional was the choice to stage Jordan Beck and Jonathan May’s relatively recent musical adaptation as opposed to the more popular 1954 adaptation or J.M. Barrie’s original stage play. Even bolder choices are made with the costuming and casting. Hook still wears a scarlet coat. Michael has his teddy bear. The Lost Boys’ costumes feature animal motifs. But John doesn’t have his top hat. Pan doesn’t wear green and Captain Hook’s hook is covered in glitter. Oh, and a boy (Jonny Vazquez) plays Peter Pan while a woman (Judy Ballard) portrays Captain Hook. (Actually women play all the pirates –except Smee, and no, Ballard does not play Mr. Darling).
Casting a woman as Hook (even though in-universe Hook is considered a man) is particularly inspired for thematic reasons. In this version, Wendy is the Darling child who longs to be a pirate. These two choices transform Hook from merely being Peter Pan’s arch-nemesis into Wendy’s evil counterpart. Pan and Hook’s climatic showdown is no longer a fight over a damsel in distress but a real battle for Wendy’s identity. Ok, maybe I’m overanalyzing this, but I love the show for giving me a new perspective.
For the most part the acting is good. The main flaw being there are times when the music overpowers the vocals. Vazquez owns it as the brash and mischievous Peter Pan, but I was amazed with how great he is when playing Pan as a genuinely vulnerable and wounded boy. His duet with Michaela Varvis’ Wendy is incredibly touching. Varvis rises up to the challenge of playing the role with the most character development. London Walston is a rising star in the Orange County theater scene. I liked him in Alchemy Theatre’s Waiting For Godot, and I was happy to see him here as Michael. Canaan Clayton’s John had some of the funniest (and best) moments in the show as well as one of the strongest singing voices.
The show uses skateboards and swings to simulate flying, and it works. The sets are probably the most traditional aspect of the show –a typical Darling nursery and pirate ship. The traditional sets are contrasted well with the use of more modern props like the lightsaber and foam bat; John and Michael use them for play sword fights. Taken together, it gives the impression Peter Pan could whisk anyone away to Neverland at any time from any place, instead of keeping the story tied to turn of the century London.
Mysterium Theater’s Peter Pan was a wonderful surprise and a great reminder of how there are infinite ways to tell a story.
Runs until April 19th get you tickets below