Darling ….. Philip Quast
Wendy Darling ….. Raelee Hill
Peter Pan ….. Troy Woodcroft
J.M. Barrie ….. Bill Kerr
Old Cookson ….. Stuart Wagstaff
With: Jenny Vuletic, Darren Martin, Nicholas Gledhill, Neil Young, Brendan Donohue, Dene Kermond, Josef Ber, Mark Nichols, Nathan Spencer, Daniel Mitchell, Lloyd Morris, Terry Bader, Brian Langsworth, Douglas Blakie, Myles Pollard, Kenneth Spiteri, Neil Young, Russell Newman, Darren Tyler, Ben Ager, Damian Bradford, Sue-Ellen Shook, Russell Newman, Janine Burchett, Juliette Verne, Tanya Morgan, Patricia Cotter, Angela Kelly, Shantelle O’Leary, Chris Pinder, Kylie Rowling, Brett Nichols, Andrew Aroustian, Trent Atkinson, Graeme Haddon, Gavin Sainsbury, David Collins, Murray Raine, Ingrid Maganov, Ben Frost, Matthew Nicholls, Anthony Woolcott, Jean-Alexandre Cape, Luke Ede.
Stunning sets and amazing animatronics can’t overcome an uneven book and lackluster direction in “Pan,” which is the most anticipated and biggest Australian theatrical event since Peter Allen bio-tuner “The Boy From Oz,” which grossed A$ 70 million ($ 40 million) on its home turf. While it might be the story about the boy who never grew up, the Peter Pan stageshow needs to grow up in a hurry and decide who its audience is and what sort of show it wants to be if it is to have any hope of flying successfully overseas and recouping its reported $ 8 million cost.
Show’s enchanting, entrancing look includes sets that sometimes resemble a children’s pop-up book and at other times a big-budget film with ships gliding across stage and characters flying through the air. The collection of fribbits, squassums, honkers, snogmogropopous and crocodiles are truly eye-catching thanks to Jim Henson’s Creature Workshop, which co-produces the show (in only its second legit producing credit, after “Dr. Dolittle”) with Germany’s Musical Entertainment.
Other standout is Olivier Award-winning thesp Philip Quast, who steals the show as Captain Hook and without whom the production would be in danger of sinking altogether.
That’s because there’s little connection between the often shallow characters and the rich environs they inhabit, leading to the conclusion that Raelee Hill and Troy Woodcroft lack presence, emotional engagement and wattage as Wendy and Peter.
Veteran thesp Bill Kerr is wasted in a superfluous turn as author James Matthew Barrie, occasionally narrating in a painfully see-through attempt to paper over piece’s poor pacing and sometimes clunky scene changes.
The first half especially lacks coherent direction, pace and energy, and helmer John Banas, a TV producer-director-actor returning to legit directing after a long absence, doesn’t manage to make all the show’s often impressive parts add up to anything substantial.
A major key in making that happen would be to decide who the show is for, which genre is being played and seeking some emotional depth. As it stands, the show is at times too heavy for kids, but not emotionally engaging enough to keep adults interested for two hours. While this is a story about the power of imagination, it could also make more of both the anticipation and regrets of growing up or the sadness of a boy who can never be embraced and searches for a mother.
Also, the piece is at times a musical, a concert, a stageplay, a puppet show and a pantomime. Fusion of genres is well and good when there’s a clear purpose and sense of direction, but neither was evident here. On opening night, “Pan” worked best in pantomime mode in the second half, when Quast’s deliciously dastardly Hook excites younger audiences, many of whom would surely need rejuvenating after the meandering first half, and Peter asks the audience to shout out to save Tinkerbell (played here by a faltering flying light and an irritatingly screechy voice).
Not helping matters is the fact that the show is the subject of a bitter legal battle working its way through the courts, after Musical Entertainment apparently got jittery and fired the show’s creator and producer, Kerry Jewel, just weeks before the opening. Whether this legal wrangling affected the show’s quality — or, indeed, if the show’s quality caused the fight — is difficult to gauge.
New producer Kevin Jacobsen is planning changes to the show, including cutting 15 minutes from the running (which is quite necessary, given the lightness of the story), improving costumes to better differentiate the pirates from the Lost Boys, and retooling the choreography. Jacobsen also plans more music. At present, show’s main (recorded) track is an awful pop ballad, written by the former producer’s daughter-in-law, that ruins a potentially lovely scene of Peter and Wendy flying and seems like an out-of-place, cheap and piecemeal insert as if no one got around to penning more songs.
Amazingly, this is the second attempt at getting “Pan” right, after a smaller-scale version four years ago dissolved into financial disarray and remains the subject of lawsuits.
Still, with work, “Pan” could be transformed from a good idea that’s clumsily realized with a Neverland chance of recouping into something with some potential , given that ticket sales were steady. But while Henson’s brilliant new technology brings much that is magical and new to this classic tale that’s been performed on the West End since 1904 and on Broadway as recently as 1990, it cannot substitute for the emotional engagement and deft storytelling which were so absent on opening night.