REVIEW: "Peter Pan" ― Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater, Claremont
…”Do You Believe In Fairies?”
“Peter Pan” is the spirit of childhood, which explains his staying power. Whether experienced as a play, book, or musical, Pan’s Neverland adventures never fail to captivate audiences. Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater’s musical production of “Peter Pan,” now playing through August 17th, is no exception. It’s a timeless story, and a pure delight.
For over a hundred years, Peter Pan has been a cultural icon symbolizing youthful innocence and escapism. Created by Sir J. M. Barrie, “Peter Pan” has gone through many changes and adaptations. Barrie’s 1904 London play “Peter Pan, The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up,” became a novel by Barrie in 1911, expanding the story as “Peter and Wendy” and then later just shortening it to “Peter Pan.” Barrie had created his character based on his older brother, David, who died in an ice-skating accident the day before his 14th birthday. His mother and brother thought of him as forever a boy.
Possibly the most-well known version of the story, however, is the Disney animated film, “Peter Pan,” which hit movie theaters in 1953 to mass appeal.
Then, producer Edwin Lester, founder and director of the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera, acquired the American rights to adapt “Peter Pan” as a musical for Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard, which landed on Broadway in 1954, a year after the Disney film. Both earned Tony Awards for their roles.
With music by Morris "Moose" Charlap, additional music by Jule Styne, and lyrics written by Carolyn Leigh, and additional lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, the show originally included songs like, "Never Never Land," "Distant Melody" and “Captain Hook’s Waltz,” turning the show into a full-scale musical.
After going through a series of revivals over the years, which included restructurings and other adaptations, the resultant musical plays now at Candlelight Pavilion.
This fantastical story, complete with mischievous children, bloodthirsty pirates, and a ticking crocodile, is typically a show with difficult technical aspects, but Candlelight’s savvy group of high-tech Gordianites skillfully takes on the challenge. Most impressive is the fly system provided by ZFX, Inc., which, along with a bit of pixie dust, allows Peter Pan and the children to actually lift off the ground and soar fluidly across the stage with aerial wire that is smartly integrated into the on-stage acting.
As the title character, Gavin Juckette embodies Peter Pan’s adventurous spirit and youthful naiveté completely. From his very first moment on the stage, Mr. Juckette is total boundless energy, soaring through the Darling’s bedroom window amid gasps of surprise and awe from the audience. His character swoops up and down the nursery ― seamless…weightless ― vaulting through the air, then air-breaking perfectly as he touches down, all the while sporting a sly smile and belting perfect vocals.
Especially sweet is his interaction with Valerie Rose Lohman as the motherly Wendy, such as when Wendy offers to give Peter a kiss. When Wendy asked if he knows what a kiss was, he cheerfully responds, “No, but I will know when you give it to me!” Ms. Lohman’s complaisance and refined English is spot-on, which makes her girlish attempts at motherhood all the more endearing. It is easy to see why the Lost Boys call her Mother and why Peter thinks twice about staying behind at the end.
After a spirited exchange with their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Darling (Randy Ingram and Francesca Sola respectively), that results in Nana being banished from the house, Wendy, John (Andrew Bar) and Michael (Asher Broberg) decide to join Peter Pan and his sassy sprite, Tinkerbell (effectively played by a laser pointer from the control room), in Neverland. As the children lift off into the air, there is the illusion of high-altitude flight that exhilarates the audience.
From the moment Peter and the children land in Neverland, they are engrossed in endless adventures – but only after they have their tea, of course. From building Wendy a house to rescuing the fierce and beautiful Tiger Lily (Amaris Griggs), to fighting off pirates, the excitement never ceases.
At one point, the audience plays a part in the story. When Tinkerbell swallows poison in order to save Peter’s life, Peter pleads for the audience to clap if they believe in fairies. The thunderous response saves Tinkerbell’s life, and the audience rejoices as the revived fairy flitters to and fro above the stage once more.
The simple-minded Smee (Thomas Stanley, “Bright Star”), first-mate, direct confidant and valet to Captain Hook (provocatively played by Randy Ingram, “Annie Get Your Gun”), provides constant chuckles and chortles with his antics, surprising constantly with his performance flair. Conjointly, Mr. Ingram brings much validity to the dastardly Hook role with his strong, bellowing voice, varied expressions and exuberant gestures. Snarling, preening, whining, cowering, he more than fills the iconic villain’s boots, making a worthy adversary to young Pan.
The rambunctious Lost Boys also elicit laughs from the audience with their rowdy cavorting and their strong group dynamic, adding much energy to the show. The Lost ensemble includes a set of twins – Ryan Watson as Twin 1 and Aaron Calderone as Twin 2, Grayson J. Smith as Slightly, Seann Altman as Curly and Jacob Rushing as Tootles.
Captain Hook’s riotous, rib-tickling band of scurvy knaves are hugely animated as the buffoon antagonists to literally everyone. James McGrath as the pirate, Noodler, also double-roles as the good Nana. Jackson Marcy plays the incorrigible Starkey, Cody Bianchi is the wayward Cecco, and Jeffrey Bonser is the notorious Jukes.
Other supporting roles includes Abigail Somera, also playing Liza, the Darling’s maid, and Francesca Sola, also playing Jane, Wendy’s daughter of the future.
Mr. Juckette’s vocals rang first-rate in his numbers, as did Ms. Lohman. Their duet, “Distant Melody,” at the end of the first act was a distinctly euphonious treat.
Twenty-three songs are included in the show (four which are reprises), including the well-known favorites, “I Gotta Crow!,” “I’m Flying,” “Tender Shepherd,” and “The Woods.”
Wonderfully staged and Directed by the incredible John LaLonde, the show's Music Director, Douglas Austin, provides a full sound that compliments the 22-member cast’s strong voices. The company group numbers are some of the best in the show, especially toe-tappers like “I Won’t Grow Up,” led by Peter, and “Ugh-A-Wug,” an impressive cultural dance melding of the three groups, Peter and the children, the Lost Boys and Tiger Lily and the Indians. The latter group, led by Ms. Griggs, is an incredible group of talent that seems unrivaled, and features Sarah Bloom, Annie Hinskton, Shelby Monson, Emily Relph and Abigail Somera.
The dance between Wendy and Peter Pan’s shadow is also delightful, as is Captain Hook’s musical “brainstorming” sessions (“Hook’s Tango,” “Hook’s Tarantella,” Hook’s Waltz,” and the balletic “Indian Dance”).
Chuck Ketter’s sets are a feast for the eyes, especially Neverland, the nursery, the Lost Boys’ hideout, and the pirate ship where color, depth and childlike ingenuity partner collectively.
Mark Gamez’ costumes are equally creative (with special thanks to The Theatre Company), full of woodsy textures and earth-tones mixed with bold primaries. Mr. Gamez’ Neverland inhabitants looks like storybook characters come to life. Captain Hook, in particular, looks very authentic. Light designer Aspen Rogers, along with Lighting Associate Jonathan Daroca deserves acting kudos for their scintillating, darting Tinkerbell. Who knew green light could have such depth and twinkle?
Puppetry (Tick-Tock the Crocodile, Captain Hook’s nemesis, Nana the Newfoundland, who is comedic gold as the Darling’s canine nursemaid, and a crowd favorite every time she pads out onto the stage, as well as the colorful Enchanted Animals) is provided by Stage Monkey Design, and Wigs, whether pirate-grizzled or Hookly-elegant are splendidly designed by Michon Gruber-Gonzales.
Fight Direction is coached by Matt Merchant who excels in coordinating the skirmishes and battles in the show, including the“Ship Fight,” featuring Peter, Hook and his band of pirates wielding cutlasses and sabres, plus another scene featuring Hook’s clash with a clan of fierce female warriors led by Tiger Lily.
The performance is in two acts with a 20-minute intermission. It should also be noted that part of ticket sales is for a predetermined special cause. In 1929, Sir J.M. Barrie unexpectedly bequeathed his copyright of “Peter Pan” to Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London, to receive royalties for every production of the play, which has since benefited many thousands of children. In 1988, the House of Lords sprinkled fairy dust over the hospital, thus allowing GOSH to receive royalties from all things “Peter Pan” in perpetuity.
Having said that, I can think of no better reason to see this fabulous, blue ribbon show. But when you do, prepare to be instantly jettisoned to a land of enchantment. So come fly with us at Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater. “All it takes is faith and trust... Oh! And something I forgot: Dust. Just a little bit of pixie dust.” ―Peter Pan
“Peter Pan” runs through August 17th and is presented Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings with dinner seating at 6:00pm and curtain at 8:00pm; Saturday and Sunday matinees with luncheon seating at 11:00am and curtain at 12:45pm; Sunday evenings with dinner seating at 5:00pm and curtain at 7:00pm.
Ticket prices begin at $65 and include dinner. Seating and Reservations can be made online at https://www.candlelightpavilion.com , in person, or by phone at (909) 626-1254, ext. 1. Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater is located at 455 West Foothill Boulevard in Claremont, CA. This show is very highly recommended!
The Show Report
* Photo credits: James Suter