Theatre Review: “Peter Pan” @ Broadway San Jose, 11/20/12

Peter Pan flew into San Jose on Tuesday night and leaves Sunday evening — a short, but magical one week run. This isn’t Disney’s Peter Pan or even the latest Peter Pan play that was recently in San Francisco, this is Broadway’s Peter Pan starring Cathy Rigby. This Broadway classic is a must-see at any age!

I walked into the theatre Tuesday evening thinking that I was going to want to walk the plank half way through, but this charming production changed my mind in a matter of minutes. When Cathy Rigby flew onto the stage, I was instantly impressed with her agility and boyish interpretation of Peter Pan. This is the first time I’ve ever seen the full Broadway production of Peter Pan but Rigby has been playing Peter Pan, on and off, since 1991. (That’s over twenty years!) She exuded grace when needed (especially during the flying), youth at all times (she never showed her age) and an incredible infectious spirit that made you want to be young again. It was all very impressive.

This production of Peter Pan felt updated and fresh, especially since the original premiered on Broadway in 1954 with Mary Martin in the title role, almost fifty years ago. The energetic choreography, by Patti Colombo, felt like classic Jerome Robbins choreography but still very current. The updated dance sequences in “Indians!” and “Ugg-a-Wugg” were fantastic. The drumming and rhythmic steps in “Ugg-a-Wugg”, the top of the second act, was one of highlights of the show. Somehow, Colombo captured the spirit of the show, kept the story moving, but the dance breaks didn’t feel “cut or shortened”, rather the director, Glenn Casale, used them to keep the energy up and the plot moving.

The other thing that I loved in this production was the story-telling that happened in front of the curtain. I haven’t seen a director employ this technique for a very long time. I loved the fact that it brought the characters and story closer to the audience for a period of time, while the scene was changed behind it. When the curtain rose, there was a new magical set featuring pirate ships, Peter Pan and lost boy’s home, mermaids or the beautiful and very magical nursery at the Darling residence. Since the audience didn’t see anything being moved on stage, it kept the show’s pace up and kept the “magic” alive.

It was also lovely to hear a full orchestra in the pit. They employed twelve local musicians and four regular tour musicians. With sixteen musicians, the beautiful score by Moose Charlap and Jule Styne sounded wonderful, especially for their first performance as an orchestra. Peter Pan’s score features some of my favorite musical theatre songs: “I Won’t Grow Up”, “Wendy” and of course, “Neverland”. I complained considerably about the sound design in Broadway San Jose’s last show Memphis, but Peter Pan had no issues at all — quite a difference actually.

I also can’t forget to mention Brent Barrett who played Mr. Darling and Captain Hook. I loved his sly portrayal of Captain Hook – super fun but menacing and even comical, all at the right times. Also, his sidekick Smee (James Leo Ryan) was a great comic physical actor, playing off Hook at all the right moments. My favorite actor (besides Ms. Rigby) was actually Tiger Lily (Jenna Wright). Her beautiful, elegant yet completely athletic dancing stole the show.

I walked into Peter Pan as an adult, with the weight and stress of the holiday season on me, and I walked out as a kid wanting to fly to Neverland. I have a feeling that Sir James Barrie wanted nothing else when you read his stories — to remember what it’s like to be a kid. This production of Peter Pan does exactly that.

Don’t miss it!

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