Peter Pan soars at Boulder's Dinner Theatre
Kids' shows can be tedious. I associate them with low production values, broad acting styles and condescension toward their intended audience. But the folks at Boulder's Dinner Theatre approach Peter Pan with such imagination, intelligence, respect and — above all — giddy exuberance that you can't help enjoying yourself. I even teared up a touch when the audience was asked to clap if we believed in fairies. I can't speak for kids, though I'm pretty sure my four-year-old grandson would have loved Captain Hook and the ferocious crocodile with the clock ticking away inside him. And how could any little girl resist the idea of flying off into the night in search of adventure with a white-nightgowned Wendy, and being so loved and needed by the Lost Boys? Not to mention Nana, the fluffy white dog who serves as the children's caretaker. Moms are apt to enjoy the repeated iteration of their sweet centrality, too: Peter Pan whisks away Wendy to play mother (though I suppose you could say this denigrates the role of real adult mothers; there are those who accuse J.M. Barrie of misogyny, and he certainly seems indifferent to the effect the disappearance of her three children would have on Mrs. Darling). Still, in this show you can tell that even mean old Captain Hook would have abandoned his villainy if he had had a firm and loving mommy.
The only drawback to this production is the depiction of Native Americans, who are shown as pure 1950s Disney figures, wearing long black wigs and fringed costumes, drumming, stomping, chanting and singing a ghastly song called "Ugh-a-Wug." I know that's how the musical is written and that these so-called Indians are integral to the plot. (J.M. Barrie's depiction is, in fact, far worse.) Still, these scenes made me cringe.
Other than that, there are loads of good things about the show. A gentle voice provides narration at the beginning as pictures of a pixie-ish young boy are shown on the wall, and Barrie's words still cast a spell, both here and in the dialogue that follows. It doesn't take much of an effort to believe that a boy who's never known his family could believe a silver thimble was a kiss, and it's nice to think a fairy comes into being every time a newborn baby laughs. Don't snicker: The Victorians took their fairies very seriously, and you didn't want to cross the Little People by venturing unaware into their territory or wearing green, which happens to be their color. Director Scott Beyette and his actors respect such darker overtones, although they don't dwell on them. Captain Hook may be a pussycat and the battles staged might be clumsy and comic, but the story's psychological ambiguities seep through. As played by Joanie Brosseau-Beyette, Peter Pan is a tough little customer who can wreak havoc if he wants, and who has very little loyalty or conscience. This is offset by Brosseau-Beyette's cheekiness and charm, as well as her terrific singing voice. Ellen Kaye is a loving, energetic Wendy, and Shelly Cox-Robie all muted warmth as Mrs. Darling. Brian Norber towers over the proceedings as Captain Hook, a sinuously evil figure who harbors a comically quaking coward within. Naturally, the show also features several adorable children.
Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through September 4, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, bouldersdinnertheatre.com.
Best of all is the flying, for which the BDT brought in an expert from Indianapolis, Troy Trinkle. It doesn't matter that you know it's coming. It doesn't matter that you can see the lines attached to the actors' backs. When Peter Pan rises into the air and Wendy, John and Michael follow — startled, kicking and laughing — it's pure magic. And everything a kids' show should be. Particularly for the adults in the audience.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events happening in the Denver art and theater scene.