Chicago Theatre Review
I Gotta Crow
Peter Pan – Music Theatre Works
Many children will be looking up into the sky over the holidays, searching for a highflying sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer. But there’s another extraordinary sight to behold soaring above the city. It’s not a bird, a plane or Superman; it’s Peter Pan, that spunky little boy who never grew up. In Music Theatre Works’ magnificent holiday production, and the finale of its 37th season, audiences of all ages will be able to once again thrill to the delightful fairytale. It’s a story of joy, adventure and with a nostalgic reminder of what we often lose as we grow up.
The musical is based upon Sir James M. Barrie’s turn-of-the-century play, which was an instant hit, both in England and America. It made legends of theatrical actresses Maude Adams and Jean Arthur, who both played the title role. In 1954 the play was adapted into a musical, with a gorgeous score by Morris (Moose) Charlap and lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, later with additional music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. The production originally starred Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard. It was a huge hit, winning multiple Tony Awards and instantly becoming a family classic. The boy who refused to grow up has since been revived several times on Broadway and toured all over the world, delighting new generations every time. The Mary Martin production was recorded and eventually became a seasonal holiday favorite when it was televised. Now, Artistic Director Rudy Hogenmiller, along with his multitalented cast, orchestra and supporting artists, present this wonderful holiday gift to Chicago audiences.
Residing in Evanston for just a brief stay, this new production is perfect in every way. Aubrey Adams’ portrayal of Peter Pan is thoroughly captivating. She makes this role absolutely her own, employing a pitch-perfect velvety voice, boyish mannerisms and professionally trained dance and athleticism. Her comic timing is as impeccable as her sincere line delivery. All of Peter’s songs sound incredibly rich and full; and Ms. Adams’ agility and energy, particularly her aerial sequences, created by Vertigo, and stage combat, thanks to Violence Consultant John McFarland, are spectacular. Ms. Adams soars, dives, somersaults and ricochets off scenery with the friskiness of a young pup. This actress, whose talents have been enjoyed all around the country, particularly at Chicagoland’s Paramount Theatre, is simply spellbinding in her portrayal.
Ms. Adams is matched by an equally talented supporting cast, headed by the handsome and golden-throated Larry Adams (No relation), portraying both a very spoiled Mr. Darling and the villainous, revengeful and humorous Captain Hook. Whether conjuring up musical mayhem to the tempo of a spirited tarantella, kidnapping Wendy and the Lost Boys in the middle of the night or dueling with Peter Pan aboard the Jolly Roger, Mr. Adams resembles a comically dapper Russell Brand in his pirate drag. And there’s also more than a hint of Gilbert and Sullivan in this musical actor’s portrayal of Mrs. Hook’s little baby boy.
Other standouts include a terrific Anne Marie Lewis as Mrs. Darling and Elizabeth Stenholt as Wendy. Both actresses are gifted singers, talented actresses and overflow with grace and charisma. As John and Michael, Zachary Scott Fewkes (young Patrick in “Mame”) and Patrick McDermott, making his MTW debut, are perfection. All three Darling children master a proper British dialect, courtesy of Susan Gosdick, and demonstrate their talent as competent aerialists, delightful actors, great singers and accomplished dancers. Graceful Anne Marie Abbate sings and dances up a storm as Tiger Lily, as does the ensemble of her Tribesmen. Anna Backer, as Liza the housemaid, is an exciting addition to the cast, as well. And special recognition must be given to Clayton Cross’ heart-warming Nana, the giant St. Bernard nursemaid, as well as his gleefully menacing Crocodile. He has also masterfully choreographed the show’s intricate dance numbers to the highest degree of difficulty.
There’s so much to recommend in this exciting production. Every member of Mr. Hogenmiller’s energetic ensemble is engaging and entertaining. The always brilliant Roger L. Bingaman, assisted by Linda Madonia as his Associate Music Director, has molded the cast’s vocal talents and conducted his gifted 26-member pit orchestra to bring out all the subtle nuances of this enchanting score. Talented scenic designer Adam Veness has met the daunting challenge of creating three separate, breathtakingly massive stage settings, lit with magic and pixie dust by Andrew H. Meyers. Costume Designer Robert S. Kuhn has outdone himself with some pretty fantastic creations. He’s done an especially nice job with Peter Pan’s leafy costume, as well as Kuhn’s wardrobe for Tiger Lily and her clan, who, thankfully, eschew the usual Native American garb for a woodland sprite style. And Alice Salazar provides additional glitz and glamor for the cast with her stylized hair and makeup designs.
All-in-all Rudy Hogenmiller’s scrumptious, well-directed and joyously-sung production allows the familiar story to unfold effortlessly. The production glistens with its richly melodic score, here to be enjoyed by a whole new generation of young theatergoers. Peppered with classics like “Tender Shepherd,” “Neverland,” “I’m Flying,” “I Won’t Grow Up” and the infectious “I Gotta Crow,” audiences will leave the theatre humming and singing. This holiday presentation surprisingly moves along quickly, offering three delightful acts in under three hours, including two intermissions. This makes for a perfect afternoon or evening of entertainment for audiences of all ages.
When Peter Pan asks the audience to clap their hands if they believe in fairies, the response in helping to bring Tinkerbell back to life is thunderous. And, for just one, brief, beautiful moment, every audience member, young and old, forgets their own personal problems and unites to bring magic back to the world. In short, this is a simply gorgeous family production for the holidays that should not be missed.
by Colin Douglas
Presented December 23-January 1 by Music Theater Works (formerly Light Opera Works) at Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson St., Evanston, IL.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 847-920-5360 or by going to www.MusicTheaterWorks.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.