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Lost Boys and Neverland come to life at Broadway Palm

By Staff | Jun 19, 2009

James M. Barrie first wrote “Peter and Wendy”, a novel, then the play, “Peter Pan”, in 1904. The original ringleader of the “Lost Boys of Neverland” was Nina Boucicault in London, followed by Maude Adams on Broadway in 1905. Then came Marilyn Miller and Eva LeGallienne.

After a musical adaptation in 1954 (thanks to producer Jerome Robbins) by Mark Charlap and Carolyn Leigh (plus additional songs by Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green), we had the unforgettable Mary Martin. Then Sandy Duncan. Most recent was Cathy Rigby. And, of course there was an animated Disney full-length feature in 1953.

But now, at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theater, there’s Philip Groft. And the role fits this young man like the proverbial glove or the way a shadow should fit. Perfectly. He is superbly coordinated and obviously loves the part, visibly having a great time playing it, from his very first entrance in search of his shadow to his final exit with Wendy’s daughter, Jane, sprinkling pixie dust in graceful swoops everywhere. The young Equity actor calls it his “dream role;” it’s his second time playing it.

On opening night, Friday, June 12, before you even got to see the stage with its proscenium of a enormous clock face and little Tinkerbells, everyone in the audience was “attacked” by a band of swarthy pirates from the buccaneer ship, Pieces of Eight (out of Salty Sam’s), foisting lots of pirate loot and seemingly endless samples of Bartender Suprme Busty Lanza’s Rum Punch on all of us. They were in elaborate costumes and right in character, trying to entice every beautiful maiden that came along – just the way they did in all those pirate books we read one of them conversing at length in Italian with one of my guests!

Before going any farther, I must sing loud praises for the technical proficiency of this show. Evan Adamson’s stage design and sets were superb, as were John White and Jim Conti’s magnificent costumes. The lighting design by Russell Thompson and its execution immensely enhanced not only the atmosphere but the whimsical nature of the story line. His Tinkerbell, for example, was a perfect melding of sound and light – and would not have been possible without his delicate touch and Chris McCleary’s coordination of these technical aspects.

And, yes, Peter Pan and the children fly at the Broadway Palm, courtesy of ZFX Flying Director Sandy Harned and the run crew of Paul Dreschel and Kenneth Deuel. Peter’s antics, in particular – back and forth across the stage (I fully expected him to swoop out over the audience with his pixie dust) were beautifully executed. Groft is so relaxed and graceful, he looked as though he’d been flying like that all his life!

The first scene on opening night, featuring Gary Kimble as Mr. Darling and choreographer Amy Marie McCleary as Mrs. Darling, seemed somewhat stilted – probably first-night jitters, now undoubtedly overcome.

Kimble came into his own, however, as the foppish, swash-buckling, hook-brandishing Captain Hook, the role in which he toured the country in the 2007-08 national tour of Peter Pan. His bumbling “straight man”, Smee, was deftly played (with a particularly good sense of timing) by the infinitely talented and experienced Paul Bernier. And the band of co-pirates were alternately fierce and mean (or tried to be ) and ludicrously bumbling – i.e. fun!

McCleary’s choreography was, as always, commendable – delicate here, boisterous there, just as it needed to be – and greatly enhanced the production. My only “nit to pick” (as regular Islander critic Marsha Wagner would put it) was her dazzlingly beautiful smile every time she appeared as the Indian princess Tiger Lily – even when all her Indian cohorts sported dead-serious expressions.

Allison Fund’s Wendy was relaxed and well done as were the characters of John and Michael Darling, her younger brothers, played Friday night by Max Fisher and Spencer Saso, respectively.

And we must not forget the Darling children’s nurse, Nana, the lovable Newfoundland dog. Appropriately lummox-ly (and lovably) played by Jayar Garcia, Nana was warmly protective and clearly heart-broken when the children flew away with Peter Pan. But Garcia was absolutely hysterical as Capt. Hook’s feared “ticking” crocodile – particularly when he chased the “wounded” Hook overboard. I love his comments in the program notes (he also plays a pirate and one of the Indians) He thanks the directors because “I don’t have to grow up. Instead I play make believe all the time, and dress up like it’s Hallowe’en every day.” There are probably few actors who would not second his thoughts!

Opening night performances are always exciting and often not letter-perfect but, despite the dozens of opportunities for technical glitches in this production, there was not one that we could see at our table. And any of the few “nits” have probably been ironed out by now. Congratulations to Prather Entertainment Group and the Broadway Palm for yet another excellent mainstage production with all the glitz (and pixie dust) of the Great White Way! Peter Pan plays through Aug. 8 with performances on Wednesday through Sunday evenings and selected matinees. Evening tickets include a gourmet buffet dinner (unless you opt for show-only seats) and are available by calling 278-4422, by visiting wwwBroadwayPalm.com, or by stopping by the box office at 1380 Colonial in Fort Myers.