On his journey to Neverland, Jason Woods was literally flying by the seat of his pants. The writer and director was already in the throes of a very different musical production when the wind changed direction. But with a lot of heart, a talented cast, and the just right amount of pixie dust, Woods’ Peter Pan is ready to take flight.
Like the Darling children, Woods suddenly found himself thrust into a world for which he was unprepared when the rights to the spring musical, The Sound of Music, fell through. He had previously adapted the script for Peter Pan, but he needed to get reacquainted with it. Woods closed himself off from the outside world for days and holed up in his studio, where he conjured up a healthy dose of his creative magic. “When we lost the rights to Sound of Music, there was suddenly this pressure on me to create songs to be sung for a musical. It was too late in the process to really acquire the rights or licenses from any company, and so it fell upon me to create content. Since the book is in the public domain, I had adapted the script six years before, so I spent some time with it before we began again and changed it up a little bit and just started writing, writing, writing music,” he says.
“I just said, ‘I need two days to not be contacted by anyone.’ I needed two days to look at the script to see if it could be hammered into something of enough quality for us to do. Out of 48 hours, I spent probably 32 hours in front of the computer, plotting out some things, drawing some pictures, looking at the stage limitations, and trying to discern how best to do it.”
Musically, Woods did he does best. He composed Peter Pan’s theme, Hook’s theme, and Tinkerbell’s theme. He knew he wasn’t going to have everything ready when rehearsals started, but he trusted the process and traveled back into his own childhood to tap into the heart of the piece. “I remember watching Star Wars in 1977, and the music was so powerful to me. I had not really considered much music back then. I just remember being taken by it. I think it was one of the first films that music just stayed with me,” says Woods. “In scoring, I always want to bring out the emotional moment and the right atmosphere. I don’t know how that works. I just find something that feels right to me.”
Woods is employing some of the theatrical sensibilities he used in his original production St. George & the Dragon in his portrayal of Nana, the dog in the Darling nursery, Tinkerbell, and, of course, the crocodile. “Everybody is having a lovely time with it. They are leaning on that puppet motif from St. George & the Dragon a little bit, where your puppeteers are visible but they become invisible. And the cast is just wonderful,” he says. “There is an element to the story that I’ve tried to retain. I think it is definitely about growing up and some of the pain and some of the joy.”
Hannah Woods is puppeteering Nana and Boston Woods is taking his turn as a pirate. Tyler Lewis is puppeting the crocodile. Cameron Pfahler, who was the head of the dragon in St. George, is returning as part of the crocodile. Joshua Taylor, who appeared in St. George, is delightful as Captain Hook. Woods has also introduced a new character, Mermaid Moll, played by Sadie LaManna. “She’s really the one who’s in charge of Neverland and an unspoken arrangement between her and Peter. I’ll put it to you this way. She has knowledge of where the crocodile is so Hook has to deal with her once or twice.” Ashley Yarham will make her local choreography debut in Peter Pan. “I really wanted her to have the chance. That resonated with me that she had not been given the opportunity. I believe in her abilities and I believe in her.”
Belief is central to Peter Pan. At the end J.M. Barrie’s story about the boy who did not want to grow up, Peter Pan, having delivered Wendy safely home to her parents, realizes that no matter how much he loves her, he won’t consent to ‘grow up’ because that might challenge his belief system. Woods’ echoes that sentiment at the conclusion of his story. “Peter is asking Wendy, ‘Why shouldn’t I just want to stay in Neverland?’, and she says, ‘Because Peter, there is so much more.’ He says, ‘Like what?’ She can’t put it into words, but she realizes that he’s going to go on and she’s going to stay and have the joy of family and children and all of the hardships that go with letting go of that childhood,” says Woods.
“The end of the show is pretty poignant. The first line in the book is ‘All children but one grow up,’ and the last line in my play is, ‘All children grow up, except one.’ And it’s just pointing out, I think, that we’re going to grow up, and if we have the fortune to continue growing, escapism is good, but life is good now. I think it’s all about joy for your life as it is and making the most of what you have and celebrating all of the magic that’s there, right now.”
Having just moved a 20-foot dragon out of his garage to make space for a 20-foot crocodile, it’s safe to say that Woods’ inner child is still fully intact. With just the click of a pen or the tinkling of piano keys, he is proof that magic is always within reach.
The musical adaptation of the J.M. Barrie classic is staged April 13-24 at Christ Episcopal Church in Ponte Vedra. Tickets are $20 and only a few are still available at www.readyforneverland.com.