HERRIMAN — In my experience, Herriman Arts Council puts on a decent show, and its latest musical, Peter Pan (a musical adaption of the play by J.M. Barrie; with music by Mark Charlap and Jule Styne; and lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green), lived up to my expectations. Starting from the moment the live orchestra, led by Michelle Willis, started playing and up through the final curtain call, the theatrical experience lived up to the source material and made me feel as if I were a part of a young boy’s imagination.
The story of Peter Pan is a familiar one. Peter is a confident, magical (well, at least he can fly) young boy who never wants to grow up and lives in a faraway, enchanted land called Neverland. With his fairy sidekick Tinkerbell at his side, he starts this adventure by entering the Darling household, where he has lost his shadow. Soon the Darling children, Wendy, John, and Michael, are awake and embarking on their own journey with Peter, flying off to Neverland. There they all encounter Indians (who are first foes, then friends), a band of Lost Boys who are under Peter’s command, and of course, the villainous pirates led by Captain Hook.
The entire play of Peter Pan feels like a leap into a child’s vivid imagination, and Directors Stephen Kerr and Robyn Bishop fully embrace this concept. Even in the supposedly more “real” scenes in the Darling household, the irregularities of the family are played up: the parents allow a dog, Nana, to be a nurse to the children, and both Mr. and Mrs. Darling accept the fantastical existence of a lost shadow without a second thought. This set the tone of the entire production and made it truly feel like walking into a children’s play.
The talented live orchestra enriched the entire performance. This was a special treat considering how many theaters now employ pre-recorded tracks. The orchestra members even added the detail themselves of dressing in pirate costume, making themselves a part of the show.
The stage design and the scenery (designed by Stephen Kerr, with Jolyn Chelak and Makayla Kerr as scenic artists) were vivid, colorful, and imaginative. The Darling’s nursery room had a fireplace that appeared to really flicker, the customary beds for the children, but also overlarge blocks and toys, which suggested a dream-state for the production. In later Neverland scenes, side panels on the stage showed the sky, and pieces of scenery came on and off to create each location: the tree house where Peter Pan and his Lost Boys slept; and the Neverland wilderness where the Indians wandered.
The costumes designed by Meli Black are another example of artistic excellence. A few of my favorite costume pieces include Mrs. Darling’s gorgeous pink dress, Captain Hook’s very traditional yet stunning red and gold costume, and the magnificent chief’s headdress that Peter Pan wears during the song, “Ugh-a-Wug.”
Of course, even with all of these well-executed supporting elements, the solid performances were what really carried the show. The leads were strong overall, and the ensemble added great energy and talent.
Playing both Mr. Darling and Captain Hook (and co-director of the production), Stephen Kerr performed superbly. He gave Mr. Darling a certain childlike petulance that made his angry outburst more comical than scary, and his Captain Hook was a gruff, witty, and solid villainous presence.
Jocelyn Hansen’s Peter Pan was by far the most fun character to watch. She played up the twitchy, never-quite-still mannerisms of a young boy, along with the mischievousness and cleverness that the character of Peter Pan requires. And she never looked out-of-place among the Lost Boys, most of whom were actually boys. The only hitch I found with Hansen’s performance was in her very mature, very beautiful singing voice. Occasionally, her vocal prowess overpowered her characterization, which felt odd, as her mature singing didn’t match up with the character of Peter Pan. This dissonance was most notable in her first songs, “I Gotta Crow” and “Neverland.” As the show progressed, Hansen’s voice matched better with the character in a nice balance between her vocal talent and Peter’s boyish immaturity.
The Darling children each excelled, with Bailee Johnson’s Wendy giving a stand-out performance with her convincing innocence and excitement. Next to Peter himself, my six-year-old son’s favorite character was Michael (Cooper Johnson); Cooper’s performance was sweet, believable, and full of the confidence that young children often have in abundance.The ensemble—including pirates, Indians, Lost Boys, and adorable tutu-wearing fairy girls—all gave high energy performances and sang well together. Vocal Director Amara Blackburn did a commendable job of taking a group of diverse ages—preschool-aged fairies, teenager Lost Boys, and adult pirates included—and coordinating a pleasing vocal performance.
Though I consistently enjoyed the singing, I found some of the choreography (designed by Julia Balazs) lacking. Too often, everyone did the same thing, and the scenes would have benefited from more visual diversity. This was particularly apparent during the songs “Hook’s Tango” and “Ugh-a-Wug.” The choreography did pick up and was much more entertaining in “Hook’s Tarantella,” “Oh, My Mysterious Lady,” and my favorite choreography of the night, “Hook’s Waltz.”
This show boasts a lot of technical coordination, as Peter Pan flies throughout the show, occasionally taking other characters with him. Yet each flight scene worked seamlessly, and other technical elements such as the sound effects and flashing lights for Tinkerbell were consistently on. Production manager Kristin Housley, stage and properties manager Debra Taylor, lighting designers Jessey and Becky Letham, and sound techs Amara Blackburn and Kristin Housley all deserve to be commended for their contributions to these effects.
Even though the show had a few hiccups, overall it was a fun experience. My six-year-old son, who was my date for the night, gave his most glowing recommendation yet. When I asked what his favorite parts were he squealed, “The WHOLE thing!” For a family-friendly, uplifting, and entertaining night out, check out Herriman’s Peter Pan.
The Herriman Arts Council production of Peter Pan plays at the Rosecrest Pavilion at W&M Buttefield Park (6212 W. 14200 S., Herriman) every night except Sundays at 7:30 PM through July 22. Tickets are $6-9. For more information, visit the Herriman Arts Council web page.