note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth
Forget buying birthday and Christmas presents. Instead, take the family, step out of the MBTA Government Center Station and into the magical, eye-popping world of “Peter Pan,” where for two hours, you’ll fly over 400 miles of 1904 virtual London, to the mystical, magical fantasy tropical world of Neverland. You’ll love it.
threesixty Theatre has pitched its 1,300-seat, state-of-the-art, 100-foot-high, white tent at City Hall Plaza, after successful runs in London, San Francisco, Orange County, Calif., Atlanta and Chicago. Within its first week in Boston, ticket sales burgeoned, so the theater company extended its stay to December 30. The show initially appeared in Kensington Gardens, London in 2009, where author JM Barrie was inspired and wrote “Peter Pan” in 1904.
An outstanding blend of 23 Boston and British performers, along with technicians, producers and innovators, have created what is a superbly thrilling show for multigenerational audiences.
Ten-year-old grandson Eli and 7-year-old granddaughter Anja sat rapt, their eyes as large as saucers, their imagination piqued to high gear. Their parents and we were carried away, to a wonderful world, where none of us grew older.
What makes “Peter Pan” so superlative? Ben Harrison’s eagle-eyed direction, multi-award-winning Londoner Charlie Burnell’s spectacular design, Gregory Clarke’s booming and magical sound design, Fleur Darkin’s choreography and aerial movements, Mark Henderson’s lighting, illusionist Paul Kieve, (who taught his tricks of the trade to Harry Potter star, Daniel Radcliffe, and others), and Sue Buckmaster’s simplistic, comedic puppets, maneuvered by talented Joshua Holden and actress Shannon Warrick as Mrs. Darling and Neverbird. Conductor Benjamin Wallfisch composed a few tunes, which the pirates perform onstage, on an upper perch. The trip to Neverland isn’t without danger. There are treacherous, motherless, cannonball-hurtling pirates to battle on land and sea, but, oh, what marvelous mysteries unfold in this tent-in-the-round.
Theatergoers watching everywhere, their heads spinning under this spectacular, huge media display, may be accosted by growling pirates rushing on the aisles, or a large-snouted, huge, clock-ticking crocodile, driven by two stagehands. People in front seats come face-to-face with this smirking monster and its wooden hangar skeletal frame.
Australian-born, sophisticated actor, Josh Swales as villain Captain Hook doesn’t smile at crocodiles, do pratfalls, or show mercy to anyone. He’s a bloodthirsty, white-faced, frightening evil captain of pirate ship, the Jolly Roger, who within minutes on stage, slits a pirate’s throat for little reason.
Swales adds a dramatic Shakespearean influence as Hook, but does an about-face as the Darling children’s ineffective, self-effacing dad.
While children delight in the story of their favorite boy who refused to grow up and his sassy, pixie friend, Tinker Bell, (delightfully portrayed by Boston’s Emily Yetter) adults revel in the production’s technical marvels and this realistic, darker version of the 107-year-old tale. As Wendy (Evelyn Hoskins), John (Tom Larkin) and Michael (Scott Weston) Darling, (all native Brits), Peter Pan and Tinker Bell take their first trip aloft, awe-stricken adults applauded admiringly as the five clasped hands, suspended midair, while sites in London and the countryside whirled beneath them. They dodge beneath and between a bridge, an arch, or towers, through puffy clouds and starry, inky skies.
Equally fantastic are flights zeroing in on tropical Neverland, aiming for the multi-holed tree trunk hideout teeming with Lost Boys.
Underwater scenes are captivating, too. The cast swims with virtual fishes, as two mermaids (Kasumi Kato and Amanda Goble) at their lagoon are suspended on aqua sashes. They tumble into the “water,” beckoning to and enchanting the unsuspecting children.
Don’t expect Peter Pan to be the green-garbed, petite pixie of yore. Chuck Bradley, 29, of New York City is a feisty fella with a bare, rounded tummy, his feathery, tacked-down cloak and brown knickers more tropical than typical. Bradley as Peter possesses a childlike aura and bravado. He won’t grow up, he insists. He ran away from home to escape being sent away to school. Boring, he cries, later unleashing bitterness against his parents and adults in general. He stomps around, chanting, “I’m not old enough to be a man, and I never want to be.”
Emily Yetter as Tinker Bell isn’t the sweet twinkletoed pixie, either. She’s a jealous, fresh-mouthed, twirling, spinning, tumbling, full-grown imp with an infectious giggle, who is possessive of Peter and stops at nothing to keep his attention - or save his life. Besides Wendy, she’s jealous of Indian princess Tiger Lily, whom accomplished dancer Heidi Buehler portrays with balletic, acrobatic grace.
BOX INFO: Two-act, two hour production, by Charlie Burnell, Matthew Churchill and Robert Butters of London, principals of threesixty Theatre, adapted by Tanya Ronder, appearing in an extended run, due to popular demand, now through Dec. 30, at City Hall Plaza in Boston. For a complete list of performances, visit . Tickets are $35-$75. Premium packages are also available. Call 888-772-6849; groups, 617-532-1116.