PETER PAN

by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
The Florida State College at Jacksonville Nathan H. Wilson Center for the Arts & The Artist Series opened the 7th Annual High School Summer Musical Theatre Experience on July 27th. The final four performances are on August 2nd at 7:30PM, August 3rd and 4th at 8pm and August 5th at 2pm. The Sunday show is sold out. To reserve tickets and see a seating chart, go to www.artistseriesjax.org.
Since Beth Harvey, Wilson Center Program Director, conceived and started the Summer Musical Theatre Experience back in 2006, it has grown in stature and popularity. We recall in the first year that all performances were on a single weekend, and it seemed like most of the audience consisted of parents and friends of the participants. Performances have been expanded to two weekends and now attract a wide audience of theatre goers from all over North Florida and South Georgia who appreciate fine theatre. That is what excellence will do for you!!
From the get-go, the emphasis has always been on being a polished professional production, from the amazing sets of Johnny Pettegrew and his staff to fine costumes, expert lighting and sound, fine direction; the list goes on and on. As a result many students from Jacksonville and the entire surrounding area try out for the opportunity to participate as actors and technicians in what has become the super event of the summer for young adults.
The musical “Peter Pan” debuted in 1954 on Broadway with Mary Martin as Peter, winning a Tony Award for her performance. The Artists Series has brought the touring show to Jacksonville, with Cathy Rigby as Peter, in what was supposed to be her farewell tour in the role. Instead, Rigby, at age 60, now has her own company, still plays young Peter, and still tours the country with the show.
The musical is based on the 1904 play of Scottish author James. M. Barrie, about a young boy who refuses to grow up. He teaches the children of the Darling family to fly and takes them off to Neverland, inhabited by Lost Boys, Pirates, Indians, and a very large scary crocodile.
“Peter Pan” is considered a play for children of all ages that adults also enjoy. As Director Michael Lipp points out in the director’s notes, it is a tale of lost innocence, growing up and abandonment. While that might sound a bit heavy for the younger set that was present at the performance we saw, the visuals in the production kept even the youngest children mesmerized.
There is, of course, all that flying about by Peter and the Darling children. Alex Thompson, a Flight Director with ZFX Flying, a company specializing in flying effects, was brought in from Kentucky to install the necessary rigging and coach the fledglings in soaring above the stage. In the finale, Peter flies very high and right over the audience.
Nana (Jeffery Hunnicutt Jr.), the oversized dog, was bark perfect and an audience favorite, along with the crazy and colorful crocodile who chased Captain Hook around. Then there were those 18 Indians, led by wonderful singer and dancer Tiger Lily (Rachele Rees). Add 18 colorful pirates led by the hilarious and marvelous singer, Joseph Sykes-Burns as the vainglorious Captain Hook and his sidekick Smee (Jon J.D. Rees). We can’t forget the Lost Boys, numbering 17, who seem to be led by a character named Slightly Soiled (Ian Ramos).
The parents of the Darling Children, Mrs. Darling (Essence Williams) and Mr. Darling (Kyle Wait) are seen only at the opening and closing of the show but are impressive with their upper-class conversations in their elegant clothing. The flying children, Wendy (Lexi Inks), Michael (Brittany Nievinski) and John (Keith Smith), all had fine voices and all seemed accomplished while in flying mode. Isabella Martinez is one of the featured actors in a cameo role as Liza, the Darling’s maid. After the homesick children return from Neverland, years go by in an instant; we find Wendy has grown up and married. Wendy’s daughter Jane (Hannah Reeves) makes an interesting exit in the show’s final scene, as she sings and flees away to Neverland with Peter Pan.
One of the stars of the show is not even a real person but the fairy Tinkerbell, who appears in the form of a laser light and communicates with, yes, tinkling sounds that only Peter can interpret. The effects are operated expertly by Mario Alonso.
This show rises and falls on the central character of Peter Pan, who sings many of the clever songs. Abbie Garcia is fantastic in this role. She has a wonderfully trained voice, and it is a joy to hear her sing. Even while soaring above stage, Abbie belts out the lyrics and is very animated in flight.
The dance creations of Choreographer Samuel Hills III are exciting and make use of the large stage and the large cast in the many numbers throughout the play.
Laura Peden, as Music Director, is on the keyboard, leading the excellent ten-piece student orchestra tucked away out of sight under the stage.
Costume Designers Camala Pitts and Dorinda Quiles led the costume crew, aided by several student technicians. The costumes are wide-ranging and well-realized, from formal wear to rags for the Lost Boys, playfully bright color colors for the Pirates, and of course, Peter’s iconic green tunic.
The many sets constructed by Johnny Pettegrew with his staff along with student technicians were very large and gorgeous. For example, the opening scene, set in the expansive nursery of the Darling children in Edwardian London, is filled with oak furnishings, and a bright backdrop in a later scene with the pirate ship will make you think you’re on a desert island.
Kudos as well to those who put together the playbill. It is excellent with bios of all the cast members included.
Director Michael Lipp has directed or performed in nearly 70 productions since he came to Jacksonville some years ago. This award-winning director has done a remarkable job with this devoted, inspired and energetic cast and crew of 63 in a challenging super-sized production.

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