High-Flying Peter Pan Coming to NMU
The Forest Roberts Theatre production of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan will create the familiar fantasy of Neverland with pirates, mermaids, the Lost Boys and Tinkerbell. But Director Shelley Russell's (CAPS) unconventional interpretation will also bring the classic play, first performed in 1904, “into the present.”
Audiences should not expect a reworked musical adaptation similar to the ones they may have grown up with—from Disney’s animated treatment to the televised Broadway play starring Mary Martin to the more recent touring productions with former Olympic gymnast Cathy Rigby.
This is Barrie’s original play. And unlike the director of its early 20th century debut, Russell never contemplated casting a female in the lead role.
“If you read Barrie’s novel and the play, at one point Wendy asks Peter why there are no girls; why it’s only Lost Boys,” said Russell. “He replies that girls are far too clever. There was clear marketing appeal in having a popular female actress appear in tights in 1904. It would have been scintillating to see that. But the character is all boy. I wanted to go with what I think is the right translation. This isn’t an adaptation; we’re doing the script. But I think it’s more truthful with a male actor.”
Because Peter Pan can fly and helps the Darling siblings do the same en route to Neverland, flying sequences are critical to the production. Technical Director Kim Hegmegee (CAPS) has helped students prepare for the challenge since September. Her advanced stagecraft class learned about the rigging process and how to choreograph desired flight patterns, culminating in a highly visual performance at the end of last semester.
“Our department has budget concerns like everyone else,” Russell said. “We chose to put a lot of resources into flying and make that a fun, entertaining part of the play all by itself. We’re not trying to pretend that they don’t have wires. We wanted to focus on making what they can do really exciting. At one point, there are four characters in the air. It’s tremendous fun to watch. And it’s a challenge to put an athletic actor in harness, hand him a sword and have him flying while fighting off pirates.”
Russell said another challenge was created by the era in which Barrie wrote the play. She did minor script editing to address his interpretation of Indians.
“He also had a unique perspective about the idea of the maturing human mind—what we expect as adults and what we don't generally see as part of being an adult. I think that's relevant today. A lot of the problems we're seeing throughout the world can be laid right at the feet of little boys who refused to grow up. Peter Pan is a natural spirit, but in Barrie's text he is not necessarily gentle. He is a wild child. He's certainly not the villain; Hook is the antagonist. But some of Peter’s play is violent and destructive.”
Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 13 to Saturday, April 16, with a 1 p.m. matinee on Saturday. Tickets are available at the Forest Roberts Theatre box office and other NMU EZ Ticket outlets.