Wee ones already accustomed to 3D experiences at the movies will feel right at home watching this new stage take on J.M. Barrie’s classic tale, as characters soar into projected CGI animation to create a vivid illusion of flight. Those bits easily highlight a “Peter Pan” that’s certainly lively enough to keep kids alert — though perhaps not enchanting enough to displace memories of treasured earlier versions for the grownups they’ve brought along. San Francisco-launched U.S. tour (which hasn’t locked future dates/locations yet) gambles parents will fork out high ticket prices for a family attraction sans familiar Disney, Cirque or other brand stamp.
An uninspiring opening scene in the Darling children’s bedroom — exacerbated by the decision to make Jonathan Hyde’s Mr. D. irksomely childish — gives way none too soon to the arrival of Peter (a bare-chested Nate Fallows) and his bratty Tinker Bell (Ixtaso Moreno in tank top and dirty tutu). Soon Wendy (Abby Ford), John (Arthur Wilson) and Michael (David Poynor) are flying alongside them over fabled London sights to Neverland in an exhilarating sequence. There’s no attempt to keep the fly-wires invisible, yet seeing performers mime passage through wraparound motion graphics projected on the interior tent venue’s upper half thrills nonetheless.
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On terra firma, this “Peter Pan” is less captivating, its design elements just serviceable. The puppets embodying Ostrich and dog Nana (manipulated by Mohsen Nouri) aren’t particularly beguiling, though the two-man assembly of coat hangers and whatnot comprising Crocodile makes a bigger impression. Indian maid Tigerlily (Heidi Buehler) feels superfluous, her dance solo belonging in a 1940s Hollywood harem scene. Even Tink, whose more-Puckish-than-princessy demeanor here reps a middling success, doesn’t endear enough to lend the inevitable “I do believe in fairies” interlude much rooting value.
Hyde comes into his own as Captain Hook in the evening’s second half, though his pirate sidekicks don’t get anything very funny to do. The Lost Boys, Darling offspring and Peter himself are all energetic protagonists, if lacking much charm — indeed, the whole evening feels short on sweetness, being more busy and clamorous than heartfelt. And as a whole package, Ben Harrison’s production lacks the kind of bold, imaginative unified personality that large family spectacles have aimed for since “The Lion King,” with use of music desultory at best.
The surprisingly morbid streak (characters seem to use the words “die” or “dead” in every other sentence) in Tanya Ronder’s script adaptation may strike some as odd, while her insistence on a sort of pre-conscious romantic current between Peter and Wendy likewise feels off-key. That said, an audience with plenty of tykes stayed raptly quiet on opening night through the first act, and even after intermission there was relatively little restless chatter and tuckered-out wailing. Whether that’s sales point enough to sustain a planned 20-month North American tour remains to be seen.