Phebe Taylor is wistfully endearing as Peter Pan, the boy who never grows up, in Beef & Boards' slapstick musical rooted in inherent wisdom. As both the pompous Mr. Darling and the blustery Captain Hook, Jeff Stockberger commands the stage with broad humor and counterpoints Taylor's lithe airiness with breathtaking pratfalls. Eddie Curry directs, Ron Morgan choreographs and Troy Trinkle creates aerial movement with meticulous attention to detail for believability in each of the characters. It's us having our childhood adventures — Wendy as a mother, John as a pirate, Michael as an "Indian" — on our way to the inevitable path to growing up, except for Peter — and therein lies the reality that Barrie faced in his own lifetime — dying in childhood is truly the only way to stay frozen in time. The consolation for the early death of his brother was the image of him forever being young, vibrant and on the cusp of something wonderful.
I easily could be aggrieved by the outright stereotyping of American Indians were it not for the across-the-board stereotyping of parents, pirates and place-frozen-in-time.
The 1954 Broadway musical based on J.M. Barrie's original 1904 stage play and his subsequent novel clearly shows the conflict between childhood innocence and adult responsibility (part of which is speaking truthfully about groups of people). And yet there is room to believe in the power of fairies and to discern the difference between petulant, childish behavior (being a bully or cry-baby) and being childlike (retaining a spirit of spontaneity). We learn from Peter that the power of story is what unites us. Peter Pan is a free spirit, mischievous and unsentimental, defiant of authority, yet he is drawn to the narratives that define our collective humanity — every culture has a version of Cinderella with belief in self and forgiveness at its core. Peter wants happily ever after — not Hamlet. Yet Wendy finds the bright side; after itemizing all the deaths in Hamlet she concludes those who managed to survive did "live happily ever after."
Peter Pan is on one level a slapstick romp and on the other a reassurance that life is a continuum and can be an adventure of the good kind.
The singing, dancing, acting, production details and musical accompaniment are outstanding. There's something for everyone at any age — at the May 16 show toddlers through elders were enjoying the fast pace interspersed with quiet, soulful moments. And we all clapped when Peter asked if we believe so Tinkerbell could overcome being poisoned by Captain Hook.
Bring a child and the child within yourself to imagine your individual, special Neverland on stage at Beef & Boards.