Anthony J. Piccione
For over a century, J.M. Barrie’s timeless story of Peter Pan has continued to be one of the most beloved children’s stories of all time. Nowhere is this more evident than in the success of the story’s musical adaptation. When it premiered on Broadway in 1954, it was both critically and commercially successful, having received numerous awards. It has since been produced again and again on several occasions, serving as a reflection of the musical’s enduring popularity. This was especially clear when a nearly sold-out audience attended the recent production of Peter Pan at Connecticut Repertory Theatre. The members of this audience largely expected – and rightfully so – to be just as joyfully entertained by this production as audiences who saw the show in the past had been.
In the end, they got exactly what they were hoping for.
This production of Peter Pan – directed by Cassie Abate – is just as magical and exciting as one could hope for, as it takes the audience straight to Neverland with its wide range of talent and stunning visual effects. Abate’s talent as a director is evident in the casting of the production. The show’s ensemble consists of a nice mix of seasoned professionals with several younger, college-aged actors, all of whom do an excellent job breathing life into this classic story. In addition to directing, Abate also fulfills the duties of choreographer in this production. Her talent in this area particularly shines during the show, as choreography proves to be a major highlight. Over the course of the production, her love for the show is evident in each of the scenes, as the show is blocked and choreographed down to perfection, keeping the audience engaged from beginning to end.
Starring in the title role is Riley Costello, known for his roles in the Broadway production of 13: A New Musical and the Broadway revival of Bye, Bye Birdie. This is a noteworthy casting choice, given the history of this show, as the role of Peter has traditionally been given to a female performer since the days of Mary Martin in the original 1954 production. This proved to be a non-factor in the quality of the production, as Costello proves himself to be more than up for the task of playing the role of Peter, turning in a highly energetic and enthusiastic performance. The song “Neverland” is a particularly notable highlight of his performance during the night.
Starring alongside Costello is three-time Tony nominee Terrance Mann, who recently directed and starred in CRT’s production of Les Miserables this summer. In this production, Mann steals the show with his equally villainous and hilarious portrayal of Peter’s arch-nemesis Captain Hook. Though largely known for playing the much darker villain known as Javert in the original 1987 Broadway production of Les Miserables, Mann displays his high-versatility as a performer as he clearly taking on the more comically evil Hook in this show. This is most noticeable during the musical number named for his character, when audiences are left laughing in their seats as a result of the entertaining interactions between Hook and his crew.
Among the rest of the cast, Maggie Bera delivers a lovely performance in the role of Wendy, particularly shining in the musical number “Tender Shepherd”. Troyer Coultas delivers a solid performance as John, while young Atticus L. Burrello is charming in the role of Michael. A particularly notable highlight of the show is Jonathan Cobrda, who provides an extra-dose of pleasant comic relief in the role of Mr. Smee. Accompanying the lead characters is a large ensemble of equally talented and entertaining performers, including Captain Hook’s mischievous crew of pirates, a highly-gifted tribe of dancing Indians, and several cheerful and delightful Lost Boys.
In addition to the cast and direction of the production, the visual elements of the show prove to be yet another major highlight, with various technical aspects put to excellent use. The set design is as pleasantly bright and colorful as one can expect Neverland itself to be, providing the perfect backdrop to take the audience into the world of the show. The lighting in the theater is also put to good use as a compliment to these lovely sets. Transitions from scene to scene are accompanied by video projections that are so stunning, you would think that Connecticut Repertory Theatre had hired Disney to come in and do the show’s special effects. Overall, these technical aspects take an already entertaining show, and make it an even more wonderful live experience for the audience.
By the end of the show, theatergoers left with just as much joy and happiness as one can typically expect from a show like Peter Pan, with plenty of laughs and smiles to go around for people of all ages. This production is a fun-filled spectacle that makes a perfect night-out for the whole family, and proves that Peter Pan is still just as captivating for audiences as it was when it first premiered on Broadway. If you are looking for something fun to do this summer, especially if it’s something that both you and your kids can enjoy together, this production is not to be missed.
Peter Pan runs at the Connecticut Repertory Theatre from June 18th to July 3rd. For more information, please visit www.crt.uconn.edu.