Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Theater Review: Peter Pan -- CT Repertory

Troyer Coultas (John), Atticus Burrello (Michael), Maggie Bera (Wendy) and Riley Costello*(Peter). Photo: Matt Pugliese.
Triumphant Peter Pan Flies out from Shadows of Other Productions
By Lauren Yarger
A male Peter Pan! What a concept – and one that works very well in CT Repertory’s magical production of Peter Pan, directed and choreographed by Cassie Abate.

This musical, based on the play by Sir J.M. Barrie (go see the story of his life and how Peter Pan came to be written in the fabulous Broadway musical Finding Neverland, by the way) has never been a favorite, The story didn’t thrill me as a kid and makes even less sense to me as an adult. Apologies to those of you out there who adore flying boys, dogs who are Nanas, pirates who kidnap people and fight with Indians, crocodiles that tick and parents who worry about what happened to their missing children….

So I always wonder why theaters keep producing this show, originally directed, choreographed and adapted by Jerome Robins. The music by Morris (Moose) Charlap with additional music by Jule Styne with lyrics by Carolyn Leigh (and additional lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green) has some classic tunes like “I Won’t Grow Up,” “Neverland,” and “I’m Flying,” but that story…. And why is woman always cast as Peter, just because Mary Martin originated the part (possibly because the weight of a man would have proved too much for flying apparatus?). The only thing I didn't like about Broadway's Neverland was a creepy female Peter.....

At any rate, I begrudgingly went to the Jorgensen Theatre on the Storrs campus to see yet another production, but I found something that made me want to fly – and even crow: an utterly delightful, engaging production starring an athletic Riley Costello in the title role, opposite Broadway vet Terrence Mann as Captain Hook (and Mr. Darling). Costello even managed to make some of the awkward flying scenes seem more under control than I suspect they were on opening night.

Under Abate’s superb direction, this production took me on a journey I never would have imagined. When this Peter bursts onto the scene, he means it, singing, flying and charming away (he even sings high soprano notes in an amusing scene where he is taunting Captain Hook. Costello was recently seen as Dunlap Dewberry in Because of Winn Dixie at Arkansas Repertory Theatre and as Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Costellos Broadway credits include Bye, Bye Birdie, 13: the musical, and Everyday Rapture. I was impressed.

Mann embraces the corny aspects of his role and has fun with it, often cracking himself up to the delight of the cast and audience.  He made his Broadway debut in 1982 as Chester Lyman in Barnum, and soon after originated the role of Rum Tum Tugger in Cats. His portrayal of Inspector Javert in Les Miserables, a role which he will be reprising in the first show of CRT’s summer season, earned him the first of his three Tony nominations. His second nomination came from his portrayal of the Beast in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. He was most recently seen as King Charles in the 2013 revival of Pippin, which earned him his third Tony nomination.

Rather than tell you the plot of Peter Pan, which I am sure most of you love and adore, let me just list some highlights and urge you to get up to UConn for this one:

·         The costumes by Lisa Loen are a combination of what we expect and surprises. Particularly exciting are the “natives,” who look more like inhabitants of a colorful Carribean Island, rather than stereotypical “American Indians.”
·         Jonathan Cobrda shows great comedic chops, especially in physical comedy and charms the audience
·         Maggie Bera is a solid and likable Wendy
·         The large puppets delight
·         Sound by Michael Vincent Skinner achieves a great mix between vocals and music.
·         10-person band under the Direction of Music Director Daniel Moctezuma ably handles the score.

Peter Pan soars at the Harriet S, Jorgenseon Theater on the UConn Storrs campus through July 3. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm, Matinees Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets $10 to $55: (860)-486-2113;; box office in the Nafe Katter Theatre, 820 Bolton Rd.

The full cast:

Terrence Mann…. Captain Hook and Mr. Darling

Riley Costello…. Peter

Maggie Bera… Wendy

Troyer Coultas….John
Atticus L. Burrello…. Michael

Alessandro  Andy Viviano….Crocodile/Jukes

Alex Zeto….Mrs. Darling

Chris Hendricks….Slightly

Sean Ormond….Tootles/Nana

Nate Whipple…. Curly

Olivia Benson….Nibs

Jane Sydney Roberts….First Twin

Raegan Roberts….Second Twin

Shelby Mann…. Lost Boy

Jonathan Cobrda….Smee

Annie Wallace…. Tiger Lily/Liza

Paige Smith….Ostrich/Native/Bird

Jose Luaces….Native//Pirate

Danielle Behrens….Bird/Indian/Pirate

Gabriel Bernal….Mullins/Native, Johnny Brantley III…Cecco/Native

Joe Callahan….Starkey/Native

Will Bryant.... Noodler

Chester Martin.... Pirate

The Nutmeg Summer Series continues at CT Rep with Xanadu July 9-19.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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