Peggy Sue Dunigan

First Stage finds the ‘second star on the right’ in “Peter Pan and Wendy”

By - Oct 18th, 2010 04:32 pm

A black-garbed “puppeteer” flies Peter Pan in the First Stage production.

First Stage Children’s Theater retells J.M. Barrie’s captivating tale in their season-opening production Peter Pan and Wendy. In this particular take on the classic, Doug Rand’s adaptation focuses intently on these two youthful characters.

Grandmother Wendy’s voice (Heather Sanderson) opens the story and transitions scenes, making her the centerpiece for the production. Actor Katie Shelledy strikes a delicate balance between sentiment and sensibility, portraying a demure but determined Wendy who retains her innocence while constantly seeking mature understanding.

Sam Skogstad imbues Peter with an impish charm; his hidden romantic side may deepen over several performances. Henry Shotwell adds an intelligent touch to John Darling, while Conner Mills tightly holds his teddy bear as an endearing Michael. In dual roles as Mr. Darling and Captain James Hook, Todd Denning steals several scenes when swashbuckling his steel hook and sword around the stage.

But the real scene-stealers here are the stage technicians and puppeteers. They make the characters fly, make Tinkerbell flit and flirt though the air and send Hook’s wonderfully large crocodile through water. Mark Hare’s puppets provide moment after magical moment. To create these miraculous stage effects, artistic director Jeff Frank embraced the Japanese bunraku tradition, in which characters dressed completely in black manipulate puppets. In Pan, the puppeteers actually fade into the darkness after a few scenes, thanks to New York lighting director Laura Mroczkowski and local scene designer Sarah Hunt-Frank.

The story itself, of course, is about the relationship between Peter and Wendy. The First Stage conveys that relationship with charm and an aching allure. The blithely unaware boy both needs a mother and desires a lover. Wendy senses the conflict of feelings within Peter Pan and treads the fine lines precisely. She plays both the mother and would-be lover with fluid ambiguity, as women do in real life.

First Stage Theater’s enchanting production of Peter Pan and Wendy adeptly tells a story that, like Peter Pan himself, never grows old. When Peter asks Wendy to come with him, Wendy is willing to fly out the window until she turns to her mother for permission. She is unable to decide for herself, as childhood wonder collides with grownup wisdom.

Audiences will cherish rediscovering this feeling, by flying with Peter, Wendy and First Stage “to the second star on the right, and straight on to morning.”

First Stage Children’s Theater presents Peter Pan and Wendy in the Todd Wehr Theater at the Marcus Center for Performing Arts through November 14. Youth parts are all double-cast; TCD saw the “Light,” which alternates with the “Shadow” cast. For show times and tickets: 414-267-2961. Links and details here.

Categories: A/C Feature 2, Theater

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