Theatre Review by Manning Harris: “Peter Pan
February 13, 2008
What a treat it is when everything goes right. The Atlanta Lyric Theatre’s production of Peter Pan, staged February 8-10 at Georgia Tech’s Ferst Center, with stage and music direction by the Lyric’s new artistic director and general manager Brandt Blocker, is a sparkling jewel of a show—equally appealing to the very young and the young at heart. Mr. Blocker may prove to be the David O. Selznick of Atlanta theatre: He has taken the time and trouble to assemble a perfect cast; the orchestra (which he conducts himself) sounds terrific and is balanced flawlessly with the singers; and he has chosen ZFX, Inc. for the scenery, costumes, and the all-important flying effects. Yes, Peter and the children are flying all over the huge Ferst stage; clap your hands if you believe in fairies!
All this is awfully good news, because if Mr. Blocker continues to direct with this kind of care and passion, we’re in for some good times with Lyric Theatre. Let’s start with the cast—where did he get these people? Take the Lost Boys (I’m assuming you know the story; if not, fret not—I’ll give you a brief synopsis shortly): budding professionals, every one of them—Trey Best, Eli Payne, Julian Cole, Chase Andrew Gooding, Robert Oliver Norris, and Alex Murfee. Veteran actor/singer Dan Britt gives a brilliantly funny performance as Mr. Darling/Captain Hook; again, perfect casting here. There are no weak links: Mrs. Darling (Cynthia Watters), Wendy (Erin Ashley Cohen), John (Jonathan Krohn), Michael (Ben Wilson), Smee (Charlie Bradshaw), Tiger Lily (Casey Leigh Thompson—who is the show’s choreographer par excellence).
Then there is Peter Pan, superbly played by Carole J. Bufford. Yes, as most of you know, Peter Pan is traditionally played in the theatre by a young woman. But as Broadway and TV legend (and my first Peter Pan—going waaay back) Mary Martin once said: “Nobody ever seemed to care—certainly children didn’t—whether Peter was a boy or a girl. Peter Pan is, and should be, any age or any sex.” Peter is about freedom of spirit and believing. And it’s about the importance of staying young, always, in spirit. That is plot synopsis enough. Ms. Bufford’s great performance shows us this. Other cast standouts are the Pirates (Joey Ellington, John Markowski, Brad Bowden, Jason Royal, Michael Austin) and Indians (Allison Allgood, Becky Borden, Sarah Johnson, Sims Lamaason, Beth Lewis Lightfoot, Elizabeth Neidel, Joanna Richardson); also Taylor Driskell. There is terrific dancing.
Do you know the songs (“I’ve Got to Crow,” “Neverland,” “I’m Flying,” “I Won’t Grow Up”)? They all work beautifully. “Peter Pan” is the most completely realized musical I’ve ever seen on the Atlanta Lyric stage. It’s quite miraculous, actually; I know Peter himself would approve, and I wish it could run a month, at least. We shall await further miracles from Mr. Blocker and the Lyric.