PETER PAN AND TINKER BELL–A PIRATES CHRISTMAS
No matter your age, gender, or humor-appreciation level in life, you have got to see this production of Peter Pan and Tinker Bell–A Pirates Christmas. I also loved the previous two Christmas Pantos at the Pasadena Playhouse, but this latest one is truly my favorite. And not just because I’ve been referred to as “Peter Pan” my entire adult life. The show is just great!
I was in heaven watching the action unfold on opening night. I just wanted to enjoy it along with the rest of the audience, so I barely even took notes. This was Mr. X’s second time seeing a “Panto at the Playhouse,” and I couldn’t have summed-up the experience better than he did: “You come out of the theatre younger than when you went in.” What a spot-on observation that is!
Okay, I’m too excited about this show to go in order this time, so here are my willy-nilly observations:
As someone who’s ruled by color, I can vow that all the visuals are stunning. As usual with these Lythgoe Family productions, I could live in any one of those sets. My absolute favorite was the very first one, of a London street. I absolutely adored all the sets (by Ian Wilson) and costumes (by Dana Neillie,) and, at times, the actors even got into certain configurations that looked like a Pageant of the Masters tableau. What a treat for the eyes, as well as the soul. (I’m not kidding about that last part—watching this show was the first night in almost eight weeks that my mind didn’t wander off to my own problems! Even for a split second.)
As a Peter Pan purest, I was actually a tad worried about if I’d like this crazy, fun production, because “panto,” by definition, is “a story loosely-based on a well-known fairy tale.” But for this one, they pretty much followed the real story as much as possible. (But thank goodness this version has a happier ending because I was rocking fabulous non-waterproof mascara that night!!! And I go to pieces just thinking about the real ending.)
The musical opened with a bang with a fabulous hip-hop dance number performed by all the dancers. (Actually, the show closed in a wonderful way, too, with everybody coming out with new blue-and-white customers that were just for the curtain call. They were mouth-watering, especially Wendy’s dress, that was a long version of my own fave from when I was five!) And the music just kept coming with all popular songs that were met with murmurs of recognition from the crowd.
It always helps seeing these pantos with a good audience, and luckily for me, the opening-night assemblage was just perfect. They were cooperative, and most of all, appreciative. All panto audiences are encouraged to boo Captain Hook, cheer Peter Pan, sing along, and just participate in general. It’s extra-fun when the little kids call out exactly what they’re thinking at any given moment. (And, if you want to see your own child on that stage, check into the Golden Ticket opportunity, on their website at the bottom of this review.)
Most of the acting was excellent, none moreso than John O’Hurley in a true tour de force performance as Captain Hook. I had never seen him act before, (sorry–I was not a Seinfeld watcher,) so I was pleasantly surprised by just how fabulous he is. I had met him a few times briefly a long time ago, and, of course, I voted for him every week on the first edition of Dancing With The Stars, but that was the extent of my knowledge of John. And, for me, even though I’ve seen all different stage productions of Peter Pan in my life, the only Captain Hook has been Cyril Ritchard. But at intermission, I told Mr. X that John could play the real version of the villain in the next production of the Broadway musical of the tale. Those who know me well know what a major compliment that is!
Another stand-out is Parvesh Cheena as Smee. Big props to him for playing it with the perfect comic balance to appeal to grown-ups as well as children. I’m still sure I recognized his face, but when I read his credits, I had never seen any of them, so he was a great discovery to me. Mr. X was a tad familiar with him, and was impressed by how good of a singer he is.
The kids in the show are all very accomplished, very working actors, but the find here is Chrissie Fit as Tinkerbell. For me to accept a dark-haired Tinkerbell, you know how good she is! The girl has natural comic flair; just about every line she utters is delivered perfectly, whether she’s speaking in Spanish, (she’s Latina herself,) or invoking a Valley Girl. She’s constantly keeping us surprised, and all her choices are excellent.
I was also impressed with the trio of nutty pirates. Ricky Jaime, Chris Jarosz, and Mason Trueblood are all pretty funny, especially for guys who are mainly professional dancers! When they first entered, I knew that one was supposed to be Elvis, but I thought the other two were possibly crosses between Keith Richards, Johnny Depp, and Steven Tyler. It turned-out one was a Michael Jackson type, and the other was a combination of the Beatles. No matter what they were doing, they were super-entertaining. Mr. X loved that the Beatles guy answered everything with an actual Beatles song title. Even though he knew one was coming, he practically guffawed every time this guy opened his mouth!
And I’m sure the younger audience members will be happy to see that the three Darling Family children are all kid actors from the Disney Channel’s Girl Meets World, including Sabrina Carpenter as Wendy, Corey Fogelmanis as John, and August Maturo as little Michael. August really came to life near the end of the show, when he finally got to sing; I couldn’t take my eyes off him at that point. He’s adorbs.
For us teen (and older) femmes, there’s good-looking dude Kevin Quinn, (from Bunk’d,) as Peter Pan himself. But here’s something interesting about him doing the role: Peter, though a boy, is always played by a female, and usually by one who’s a lot older than the boy she’s supposed to be. (Main examples: Mary Martin, Cathy Rigby, Sandy Duncan.) I didn’t know who would be playing it in this production. (Sorry—too many press releases in my life to read them all in-depth.) When I was explaining what a “panto” is to my friend the night before, I included in the description that there’s usually a guy in drag playing a female character, and I didn’t know how they would do it here, since there are so few females in the story. My pal mused, “Maybe Peter will finally be played by a boy.” And, (possibly for the first time in her life,) she was correct!!! I wonder if even the producers realized that twist on the panto recipe!
And kudos to writer Kris Lythgoe for the many clever lines. My favorite is when Peter asks Wendy what a father is, and she answers, “It’s like a mother, only angrier.” Brilliant!
Even the dog (a real one, actually,) is fun! (But good thing they don’t go so far as to have a live croc! The movement actor in that animal costume made him really funny.) One note of interest on the two dogs who alternate the role of Nana: They’re part of the AFF Therapy Dog Program at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. And here they are now, on the Pasadena Playhouse stage, making thousands of children (and grown-ups) happy all month long. Yet another wonderful part of the Peter Pan and Tinker Bell–A Pirates Christmas experience!
The only thing missing for me was more fabu dancing, choreographed by Spencer Liff of So You Think You Can Dance fame. We all loved the totally hip dance done by the kids on hoverboards, (he told me later that most of them had just learned to use the crazy devices!,) but we could have happily watched even more numbers.
But that’s always the aim of any show, isn’t it? To leave them wanting more. So, I know I’m not alone in looking eagerly forward to next year’s Panto at the Playhouse. But first, you must all go see this one!
And please get there early enough to enjoy the activities in the front-of-the-theatre courtyard before each show. The area has been turned into a Winter Wonderland for the duration of the run. And the room off to the side of it (that I always tell you about) is extra-special this time. Besides the tree and decorations, there’s a long table for kids to color on. And Santa will be there on select dates through December 24th. (Some of the Winter Wonderland craft activities are available for a nominal fee of $5. Get all that info, as well, on the website at the end of this review.)
Since it was opening night, there was a fabulous post-show party, of course! It was in redwhite+bluezz, right next door, with part of the patio open, as well. Everyone was in such a festive mood, made moreso by the wonderful buffet. I loved that it was actually Christmas dinner, to go along with the theme of the show! They carved up freshly-roasted turkeys, and served it with mashed potatoes, mac ‘n cheese, and gorgeous green beans sautéed in olive oil and garlic, which is the perfect dish for me nowadays. The dessert pastries were gorgeous, and Mr. X said they tasted as good as they looked.
We were lucky enough to spend some time with John O’Hurley, choreographer Spencer Liff, and Michael Orland, the Musical Director I’ve been
stalking buds with for years now.
A happier time at the theatre I cannot imagine. Even in Neverland!
Peter Pan and Tinker Bell–A Pirates Christmas running through January 3, 2016
Pasadena Playhouse 39 South El Molino Ave. Pasadena 626-356-7529 www.PasadenaPlayhouse.org