THEATRE REVIEW J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan takes on CGI

Threesixtyº’s production takes the best of film and stage on a journey to Neverland

4411 peterpan
Tinker Bell (Emily Yetter) and Peter Pan (Chuck Bradley) fly to Neverland in the new threesixty° stage production of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan.
courtesy of Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant pictures inc.

Peter Pan

Presented by threesixtyº

City Hall Plaza

Runs until Dec. 30, 2011

Since J.M. Barrie’s inaugural London stage production in 1905, countless iterations of Peter Pan have graced film and the stage. Each form has its charm; the intimacy of Wendy caring for the Lost Boys shines on the small stage, whereas the majesty of cavorting through the London Sky on the way to Neverland seems a feat best left to cinematography. All of these iterations form a collective memory of the Peter Pan story, but no one adaptation can stand alone.

This is the conundrum of producing Peter Pan, a story that sweeps vast arcs from the small to the big, from tinker bell in a jar, to Hook and the tick-tock of the giant alligator. You need to get the big things right, but you can’t lose the small things too. Luckily for us, threesixtyº’s production, playing in a giant white tent by Government Center through Dec. 30, does both.

The production enjoins dramatic stagecraft with high-flying wire acrobatics, and sets both in an open circular stage enclosed by a giant screen. Think of it as seeing an Imax movie with real, live flying people in a planetarium.

Together, the experience immerses the audience in Neverland. Scenes of the London skyline fly by the audience as the actors hover in midair. The backdrop of the Neverland jungle tingles with activity — butterflies flutter in the background and the branches sway. The Cannonade from Captain Hook’s pirate ship flies at the audience’s faces and lands with a deafening crash. Fights between the pirates and the Lost Boys spill off the stage and into the audience. At times during the show, it’s terribly easy to fall into the spell of really being in Neverland.

All of this wizardry would be moot if the story itself didn’t live up to the substance of Barrie’s tale of a boy who never grows up. Peter Pan is a much darker story than Disney would have you believe. It struggles between the want to eternally capture the innocence of youth whist knowing that to live is to endure sadness, tragedy, and mortality. Anchored by strong performances from the leads — Chuck Bradley as a puckish Peter and Evelyn Hoskins as an empathetic Wendy — the cast ably delivers on a tricky script that sometimes wanders, but ultimately flies true.

Threesixtyº’s production of Peter Pan is a blockbuster production with carefully choreographed flying scenes, vivid imagery, and an epic scale and grandeur. But like the best blockbusters, those things by themselves are not enough. This Peter Pan soars because it stays true to the story of a little orphan boy who refused to grow up.