Leonard Bernstein’s Peter Pan has returned to Santa Barbara’s Lobero Theatre for the second Christmas in a row, good news for children from now through January 3.

Bernstein’s Peter, like the more famous Mary Martin version, played on Broadway in the early 1950s, and in fact ran for twice as many performances as the Martin production did.  Though it lacks Moose Charlap and Jule Styne’s bright, hummable melodies sung so jauntily by Martin, (and later by Sandy Dennis and Cathy Rigby), Bernstein’s Peter Pan is worth seeing if only for a chance to hear little known songs by the composer of West Side Story.  Many of them are vocal showcases for Wendy, portrayed at the Lobero this year by the lovely Ronit Aranof, who sings them in an exquisite soprano.  The motley band of pirates get a couple of other ditties, and Hook (once again the excellent Robert Yacko) sings the biggest applause-getter of the evening, a funny, operatic soliloquy written post-Broadway run for a national tour that never materialized. (The Broadway original Boris Karloff couldn’t sing.)  Interestingly, in Bernstein’s version, Peter himself doesn’t sing a note.

In addition to the wonderful Aranov, new to the production this year is the gorgeous Suzanne Friedline as Mrs. Darling, who also narrates the tale, and imbues her role with warmth and verve.  Yacko is, as he was last year, both dastardly and deliciously funny as Hook, and a fine Mr. Darling as well. In the title role, Corina Boettger (who turned twenty on opening night) is every bit as saucy and spunky as she was in 2008, and it’s nice to see someone in the role who can pass for a young boy.

Jordan Lemmond (as John) and Ryan Dalforno (as Michael) return in fine form as well, Lemmond’s voice an octave deeper.  Once again, Chet Carlin (an amusing Smee), is supported by a motley (and very funny) crew: Miller James (Gentleman Starkey), Greg Sorenson (Cookson), Matthew Tavianini (Bill Jukes), Frank Artusio (Cecco), and Trevor Dow (Noodler). The pirates shine in a well-performed jig, choreographed by Carrie Diamond, and there’s an exciting shipboard sword fight staged by sword master Tim Weske.

Opening night, the production still felt a bit rough around the edges. Some of the ensemble children, especially, need to work on sharpening line delivery and projection.  (Leads are miked, most others are not.) What all the kids have in spades is energy and vivacity, and they are: Olivia DeVenne, Gavin Gaitan, James Gordon, Madison Hall, Olivia Le Sage, Andrew Miller, Jakob Miller, Tessa Miller, Hannah Robinson, Wilson Sherman, Olivia Siemans, Avery Sorenson, and Talya Steinberg. Allison Lewis crawls across the stage in a crocodile suit to amusing effect and Tavianini gets four paws up for his terrific embodiment of Nana, the canine nursemaid. The cast is ably completed by Deborah Bertling (Liza) and Angelica Lawrence (Tiger Lily).

The production has been capably directed by Albert Ihde (who did the adaptation from J. M. Barrie’s novel and play) and cast member James.  Once again, a highlight of the production is its seventeen-piece orchestra, expertly conducted by Alexander Frey. Returning set designer Gary Wissman, costume designer James (wearing yet another hat), and lighting designer Michael Philippi all do first-rate work.  Magic lantern paintings by Diana Leidel introduce scenes with an appropriate early 20th Century look.

Last but not least, it’s a thrill as always to see Peter, Wendy, John, and Michael fly, courtesy of the famed “Flying By Foy” team.

Though Bernstein’s Peter Pan lacks the musical theater pizzazz of its more famous counterpart (it’s rightly described as a play with music), it is bound to entertain young children such as those who watched transfixed on opening night.

Lobero Theatre, 33 E. Canon Perdido St., Santa Barbara. 

–Steven Stanley
December 22, 2009
                                                                                           Photos: David Bazemor

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