He’s been the hero of a play, a novel based on that play, a prequel, a sequel, a silent film, several stage adaptations of the original play, an oft-revived and televised Broadway musical, a Disney animated feature (and its sequel), a live-action feature film, a Japanese anime, an animated TV series, a theme-park ride, and most recently a mammoth “360-degree” staging and a Broadway prequel, the winner of five 2012 Tony awards.

With all of the above behind him, you’d think that at the ripe old age of 109, Peter Pan, aka The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, would be ready to call it quits, but you’d be wrong, since just when most centenarians would be poised to take their final bows, along comes Michael Lluberes’ Peter Pan: The Boy Who Hated Mothers, proving that a) there’s still life in the young/old boy and b) that you don’t need a gazillion dollars (or however much the budget of Peter Pan threesixty° was) to make theatrical magic.

397893_10151461425743110_1257577112_n Actually, all you need is a script which finds new shades and facets to J. M. Barrie’s classic story, a dynamic young cast, a design team capable of making magic on a relative shoestring, and above all, a director with an inspired vision for the project, a director like 6-time Director Of The Year Scenie winner Michael Matthews, operating at the peak of his gifts in this stellar production.

Lluberes, book writer and lyricist for the Scenie-winning musical The Boy In The Bathroom, once again focuses on a boy with mother trouble, as the title of his Peter Pan adaptation makes immediately clear. (It turns out that Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Hated Mothers was one of several working titles Barrie came up with before settling on Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up.) In fact, Peter so despises mothers (the result of his own childhood trauma) that in Lluberes’ play, it’s Mrs. Darling rather than Peter’s oft-peeved papa who turns into the hated Captain Hook once Peter, Wendy, and John have arrived in Neverland.

575354_10151461425443110_21544373_n Now for those of you who might be wondering what happened to adorable little Michael, well Lluberes kills off the darlingest youngest Darling in infancy, the better to set his play’s considerably darker tone, one of several ways this Peter Pan isn’t quite your beloved childhood favorite despite sticking quite closely to the plot twists and turns of the Barrie original, the Disney animated feature, and the Mary Martin/Sandy Duncan/Cathy Rigby Broadway/TV/DVD/touring musical.

In fact, one of the many pleasures of Peter Pan: The Boy Who Hated Mothers is seeing how director Matthews and his cast and design team collaborate to make these familiar moments come magically alive.

935137_10151461424813110_810973286_n Tinker Bell becomes a glowing ball of light (a bit bigger than a ping-pong ball) hanging from a rope and manipulated by a cast member. Peter’s attempts to reattach his shadow are more athletic than ever before, albeit still in vain. The crocodile which bit off and ate Hook’s hand becomes just two glowing red orbs for eyes, and in one pivotal instance, merely a monstrous set of gigantic teeth. When Wendy is shot by mistake, the lost boys build a house for her out of furnishings and props that have been onstage all along. When Tink drinks poison to save Peter’s life, it is not the audience but the distant rising voices of children everywhere who bring her back to life by declaring their absolute belief in fairies. Peter does indeed crow, repeatedly, and most importantly, he flies, held aloft in various positions by cast members (and in one instance by a trunk that had previously served as a bed), letting our imaginations do the rest.

IMG_4768_000 Throughout all this, Peter Pan: The Boy Who Hated Mothers maintains its dark, Tim Burtonesque tone, with occasional comedic bits thrown in to prevent the show from ever becoming too grim. Though Peter is a considerably angrier and less cheery lad than we’ve seen before (he does hate all mothers, after all), playwright Lluberes makes sure to keep us always on our forever-young hero’s side, making the bittersweet climactic scenes which take place following the Darling children’s return home all the more poignant.

Lluberes shrinks Peter Pan The Musical’s original Broadway cast of thirty-five down to a mere seven players, four of them essaying multiple roles and all of them simply marvelous on the stage of Daniel Henning and Noah Wyle’s award-winning Blank Theatre.

As Wendy, a radiant Liza Burns is loveliness and girlish spunk personified, while sunny blond Benjamin Campbell makes Michael an ever-so-proper lad as befits his upper-class station in life. Trisha LaFache’s paralyzing grief when playing Mrs. Darling morphs into a diabolical desire for revenge when she dons leggings and a hook to become Peter’s mortal enemy. David Hemphill makes for both an adorable Slightly (as in Slightly Soiled) and an amusingly bearded pirate Starkey. Jackson Evans flip-flops back and forth between a charmingly full-of-himself Tootles and Hook’s comic sidekick Smee. Amy Lawhorn scores three times (and with a different voice/accent for each) as lost boy Nibbs, pirate Bill Jukes, and feisty Indian maiden Tiger Lily. Above all, Daniel Shawn Miller gives us one of the most dynamic Peters ever, the multitalented UCI grad virtually reinventing the classic storybook hero in a performance that melds boyish bravado, dramatic depth, and high-power athleticism in equal measure.

IMG_4468_000 Peter Pan: The Boy Who Hated Mothers may well be the most gorgeously designed Blank Theatre production I’ve seen, with scenic designer Mary Hamrich, lighting designers Tim Swiss and Zack Lapinski, costume designer Kellsy MacKilligan, sound designer Rebecca Kissin, and properties designer Michael O’Hara joining forces to create a wondrous fantasy world in which every magical bit is created out of furniture and props already onstage from the get-to. Dialect coach Coco Kleppinger scores high marks for insuring that each character’s accent matches his or her place of birth and station in life, while Sondra Mayer has choreographed a thrilling swordfight for Peter and Hook to thrust and parry it out.

Rebecca Eisenberg does double duty as stage manager and assistant director. Jillian May is assistant stage manager. Casting directors Erica Silverman and Cara Chute have found not only the terrific septet who perform four times a week, but a team of understudies* who’ll have their own “dedicated” performance nights on Wednesdays May 22 and 29.

Peter Pan: The Boy Who Hated Mothers is produced by Sarah A. Bauer, Matthew Graber, Henning, Stephen Moffatt, and Wyle. Dawn Davis, Emily Mae Heller, Evan Martinez, and Noelle Toland are associate producers.

Though there may be some who’ll carp that “We don’t need another Peter Pan” or that they are simply too “grown-up” to enjoy two hours with the boy who refused to do precisely that, for those like this reviewer who are willing and eager to let their childhood selves rise from the ashes and fly free, Peter Pan: The Boy Who Hated Mothers offers innumerable pleasures and rewards.

*Ruth Connell, Jonas Dickson, Elle Johnson, Royce Johnson, Christina Jun, and Noah Khyle.

The Blank Theatre Company’s 2nd Stage Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Boulevard, in Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
May 5, 2013
Photos: Mary Ann Williams

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