Adults greatly outnumbered children in the audience on opening night of "Peter Pan," which isn't surprising. The story of the boy who won't grow up resonates a lot more with men and women than with small fry.
In fact, a muted sigh seemed to ripple through the audience when Peter Pan (Jessica Humphrey) crowed, "I am youth! I am joy! I am freedom!"
Yet the story gives everyone a chance to be a child again when Peter pleads for people to clap their hands and bring Tinker Bell back to life. Adults applauded as vigorously as kids, and some tall people cheered when Tink (played by a green laser) glowed brightly once more.
The musical, originally created in 1954, is based on the stage play by Sir J.M. Barrie. This production is from the Anchorage Concert Association through Plan-B Entertainment, a company that casts and rehearses in Los Angeles (as it did with last year's "My Fair Lady") and then brings the show north. Two local children, Sigge Mellerstig and Simon Nelson, will take turns playing the role of Michael Darling.
Any production of "Peter Pan" rises or falls, so to speak, on the strength of the actor playing the title role. Humphrey was a delight: strong-voiced, limber and exuberant, she held the audience captive from the moment of her glitter-dusted entrance through the large windows of the Darling children's nursery.
Wisely, she plays Peter in an innocent rather than petulant way. Done wrong, the character could come across as a bully and a brat. Put another way: There's a reason that some immature, insufferable men are said to suffer from "Peter Pan syndrome."
But Humphrey's characterization isn't that of a spoiled child who runs roughshod over other people. This Peter Pan is more like Jean-Jacques Rousseau's "natural man," a happy being unfettered by the demands of corrupting society.
The other actors held their own against Peter's bombast. Beth Alison played Wendy not as a sickly-sweet stereotype but as a spirited preadolescent with divided loyalties. She longs for the adventure and friendship Never Never Land provides, but is also about to leave childhood behind.
Where the Disney cartoon version of Wendy was something of a prig, Alison plays her as a young woman who's kind and caring but nobody's patsy. When she asks Peter "What are your exact feelings for me?" she could be looking out for her own long-term interests. After all, the only respectable roles available to her in English society were as wife and mother; choosing to share that partnership with a friend would be her only shot at self-determination.
Captain Hook (Michael Scott Harris, who also plays Mr. Darling) is a dashing yet fey villain who plots children's deaths as though it were just another piratical duty. Harris is particularly amusing during Hook's musical numbers, which he delivers with wit and carefully controlled campiness.
Harris is a delight when playing against Joey D'Auria, who plays Smee. Those who saw last year's "My Fair Lady" will remember D'Auria as Col. Pickering. This time around he does a fine and scenery-chewing turn as Smee, all funny faces, snortling laughs and vaudevillian body language.
The scenery, by the way, is minimal but not much is really required: the nursery, some rocks, an underground lair and a pirate ship. As with "My Fair Lady," the emphasis is on the performers.
Seven actors play both pirates and Indians; two of them take on additional roles as Nana the dog and the ticking crocodile that's determined to eat Hook's other hand. These men worked the hardest of anyone in the show, with energetic dancing and what must often have been truly frantic costume changes.
About those costumes: The adults wore lovely brocades and velvets, the pirates natty striped trousers and feathered hats, and the children tattered trousers and shirts (as the Lost Boys) or nightclothes that never got dirty (the Darlings). The only misstep was the attire of Tiger Lily (played by Natasha Marconi). She wore a fringed miniskirt and what looked like a sports bra made of deer hide. These seemed incongruous at a children's show, although the short skirt and lack of sleeves made it easier for her to do high kicks during the dance numbers.
The show lasts for 2½ hours, including two 20-minute intermissions. Again, this is not the Disney cartoon -- don't bring very young children unless you truly think they can handle all the plot exposition mixed in and around the fight and flight scenes. A couple of preschoolers in the auditorium appeared very unhappy when it was time to sit down for the third act.
Donna Freedman, a former Anchorage Daily News reporter and reviewer, is a staff writer at Money Talks News and blogs at DonnaFreedman.com.
PETER PAN continues through May 1 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $49.25 to $80.50, with discounts for youths, available through CenterTix, 263-2787