When a perfectly good musical version of “Peter Pan” already exists, you have to wonder why the Utah Shakespearean Festival would do a brand-new one.
The answer: Because festival founder and executive producer Fred C. Adams wrote it. He directed it, too, and while we love him for starting the festival 38 years ago, we have to reprove him for thrusting this vapid, awkwardly staged semi-musical upon us.
Of course, we’re not expecting, well, Shakespeare with “Peter Pan.” It’s a children’s show (itself a curiosity, since children under 5 aren’t allowed at festival performances anyway), and is thus allowed to be simple and cartoonishly acted. Those things are charming.
Also charming are Janet L. Swenson’s vibrant costumes and George Maxwell’s magnificent sets. Seeing actors fly is always a little magical, too, even when you’re a grown-up and know how it’s done. There are some neat stage tricks besides the flying, like cramming 10 people into a tiny house and having smoke suddenly appear from a non-existent chimney. And we should mention that Nana the dog is played by a person (Michael Chmiel) inside an enormous dog costume. These things are indicative of the child-like sense of fun and fantasy that should pervade the whole show.
Unfortunately, the fun stops with the technical elements. The script itself is strangely dialogue-heavy and slow-moving. The first scene in the Darling family’s bedroom, when Peter Pan (Jered Tanner) arrives and whisks the children off to Neverland, should be an expository scene, used to establish the characters and get the show off and moving. But no. It lasts forever, and it’s not the only scene to do so.
The show in general is more talk than action, so that by the time we actually get to the big showdown between Peter and Captain Hook (Jonathan Gillard Daly), we hardly care anymore. Our senses have been dulled by the lack of excitement up to that point.
Then there’s the songs, which appear too infrequently to make this a full-blown musical. The songs are all simple-minded, both musically and lyrically, too short to be worthwhile even if they were good, and usually random-sounding and out of place. (Peter calls Hook a “codfish,” and then they sing a song about that. Not even a regular musical would waste time singing a song about such a trifling detail. Well, Gilbert and Sullivan might have, but no one else.)
Children might be entertained by the colorful costumes and the flying. The acting is enthusiastic and animated throughout, too, the performers clearly outshining the material they’ve been handed. But kids are going to want some action if they’re going to sit still for nearly 2 1/2 hours. And their parents are going to wish they’d just stayed home and rented the old Disney cartoon instead.
There was a young woman sitting next to me who was mostly naked. She wore a tiny tank-top and very small shorts and a pair of flip-flop sandals. She was evidently a friend of Jonathan Gillard Daly, who played Captain Hook. As a result, every time Captain Hook said anything, funny or not, she howled with laughter. She was frequently the only one in the theater to find his words amusing.