ORLANDO – There are mermaids that lounge around the rocks by the water, and a ship that sails by carrying a group of loud and obnoxious pirates – led, unpleasantly enough, by the biggest scoundrel of them all, Captain Hook.
At the same time, there’s a crocodile that swims those waters. He has an interest in dining on that pirate ship – more specifically, dining on none other than Captain Hook. Years earlier, the crocodile had swallowed the captain’s clock, so whenever Hook hears that dreaded sound of tick tock, tick tock, he knows to panic. His mortal enemy is near.
With all due respects to Walt Disney and its classic 1950 animated movie, the fantasy world of “Peter Pan” may be the ideal choice for a stage production. As Peter flies into the bedroom of Wendy, John and Michael Darling in search of his lost shadow, and then sweeps them into his magical world of Neverland, the story of childhood escapism never ceases to charm and delight audiences.
The recent production of the play by James M. Barre, held on Thursday evening at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre, was a first-rate effort at reviving it – and it was one that seamlessly recreated that amazing world of dastardly pirates, mermaids and Indians, and of course lost boys who want to play and have adventures – but don’t mind having Wendy become their mother and look after them.
The Bob Carr, of course, is the performing arts centre in downtown Orlando that hosts performances by the Orlando Philharmonic and the Orlando Ballet, and Broadway tours like the recent hits “Wicked” and “Memphis”, which give local audiences the opportunity to see the best that Broadway has to offer without making a trip to the Big Apple.
What’s most impressive about this production of “Peter Pan” – a musical version, with songs provided by Mark Charlap and Julie Styne – is who put it on. This was not a touring Broadway show, although with its large cast, an orchestra providing the music right below the stage and some very talented lead performers, it felt very much like it could have been.
In fact, in a sign that our local educational institutions are capable of rising to soaring heights, this production of “Peter Pan” was presented by the Park Maitland School – an absolutely remarkable achievement for an elementary school.
The school that opened in 1968 in a single building with 32 students now occupies a four-acre campus serving 625 students, offering a program with an emphasis on high academic standards and a commitment to teaching values, manners, and strength of character. Offering Pre-K4 through Grade 6, the school likes to boast on its Web site of having “talented and creative teachers,” and no doubt that includes the talents of the staff that worked on this ambitious production, including director Brandy Eleazer, co-director Joshua Eleazer, and musical director Stephen Nelson.
For a single exceptional night, they brought together a beautifully realized production of this child’s classic, complete with a cast that included mermaids, Indians, narrators, dancers, pirates, lost boys – even the crocodile that haunts Captain Hook and Nana, the Darling family’s dog.
And believe me, that crocodile – played by Sylvie Eliscu — never failed to get a round of applause as it swam across the stage in search of Hook.
“Peter Pan” is a terrific choice for a school production, since its whimsical themes about children who simply don’t want to grow up taps into both a child’s longings, but also an adult’s sense of nostalgia. Who wouldn’t want to toss aside worries about bills, car repairs and so on to fly off with Peter Pan to fight pirates and swim with mermaids? Peter Pan is like the kid within all of us, who loves to dream every now and then of escaping it all.
This production, though, didn’t have the “feel” of a school production. With very elaborate set designs — including the Darling family’s London home and the world of Neverland — it provided the ideal backdrop for the large and talented young cast.
That included Rachel Horvat as Peter, Angela Alvarez as Wendy, and Justin Sontag as the villainous Hook. To find teens who are gifted at acting, comedy, dancing and singing can’t be easy, but these three did it with such immense skill that they were a wonder to watch.
Park Maitland School deserves quite a bit of credit for this excellent production. It shows that within our schools are gifted mentors, future young leaders – and the ability of both to work together on something truly magical.
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