“I didn’t like it… I LOVED it.” That’s what 6-year-old Maggie Martin said about her first night out at the theater—and, given the show she saw, it’s kids like her whose opinions matter.
Maggie is my daughter, and was my companion for Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s opening-night performance of Broadway’s timeless musical, Peter Pan, at the Byham Theater. She was one of many children in attendance, and she responded to the production with the same excitement, enthusiasm and awe demonstrated by her peers… So, to be thorough, her opinions are included here, alongside my own.
“Mama, I can’t hear her… What did she say?” The performance got off to a bit of a rocky start, as actress Larissa Overholt’s microphone was not functioning properly. This problem was quickly fixed, though another soon took its place. Overolt (Grown Up Wendy) spoke with a tender tone that was hard to hear over the orchestral accompaniment, which is not to reproach her performance, but, rather, the audio balance and the way it interfered with the youngsters’ ability to fully grasp the plotline. Hopefully the production team will remedy this issue for the remainder of the run.
“Wow! Look at those stars!” What the production suffered in audio, it made up for in lighting, as designed by Scenic/Lighting Designer Todd Nonn. The late-night skyscape seen through the Darling children’s expansive bedroom window was phenomenal, depicting a thick black background speckled with stars sure to captivate any child’s attention.
When the Darlings set the musical into motion, the actors expertly established the family dynamic and developed their characters in an artful and expressive manner. The performance of Jillian Ferguson (Wendy) was especially powerful and emphatic, and seasoned entertainer Tim Hartman delivered a stellar showing, enlivening Mr. Darling with a flippant, nonchalant smugness.
“That’s a person dressed as a dog!” Hartman’s delightful delivery of dry humor had stiff competition from the Darlings’ four-legged friend, Nana, embodied by Rush Hodgin. Each time the human-sized pup sauntered the stage, giggles filled the theater, as they did when other larger-than-life animals appeared later.
“Oh my gosh!” Maggie couldn’t say much more when she saw Peter Pan fly onto the stage. Actress Michelle Coben’s spot-on takeoff of the impish character was pleasantly playful and exuberant, paired with singing and in-flight dancing that showed great talent and flair. Her dialogue was wonderfully animated and lively, with a child-like, carefree tenor, providing proof positive that Director Michael Licata made the right choice when allotting Coben this role, which marks her 27th production with the company.
When Wendy and Peter whisked off to Neverland, Maggie remained speechless, but her physical reactions spoke volumes, especially when Hook hooked her attention.
Captian Hook (Tim Hartman) and his band of mismatched pirates were absolutely amazing. Hartman brought to Hook a pronounced lisp, arrogance, and bravado perfectly fitting to the hallmark characteristics of his character, and every roguish move, line and mien he delivered was enchanting. Along with his swashbuckling brethren—including Smee (Quinn Patrick Shannon) and Starkey (Brad Patsy)—he kept the audience in stitches while performing tunes like “Hook’s Tango” and “Hook’s Tarantella” with unparalleled comedic grace and artistic endowment.
“There’s so many kids in this musical—and, they act and dance really good.” Maggie was referring to the cast of Indians, led by Tiger Lily (Victoria Buchtan), and the Lost Boys, who were adorable, apt and as skillful as their elders. The Indians’ dances and fight scenes with the Lost Boys and Pirates were expertly choreographed and executed.
During the second act, my child literally sat on the edge of her seat, hoping the kids on stage would triumph, because, like many others in the audience, she wasn’t sure this story would have a happy ending.
And, as per that ending, I waited for it before I told Maggie some things that surprised her…
“What the heck?” Pardon my child’s language, but that’s what she said when she discovered Peter Pan was played by a young adult female, as well as when I told her Hartman played both Hook and Mr. Darling, which is evidence that the suspension of disbelief was, indeed, suspended, even for those unfamiliar with the concept.
“I had a great time, Mama. Thank you.” Despite some flaws, Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s production fully entertained me and my daughter. It provided for us a cultural experience that fueled the enriching conversation and bonding we parents aim to enjoy with our children. If you have kids—or if, like Peter, you are a perpetual kid-at-heart—both Maggie and I highly recommend this production.
Peter Pan runs at the Byham Theater through May 3. Tickets can be purchased here.
Special thanks to Pittsburgh Musical Theater for complimentary press tickets. Photo credits: Rockhan Photography.