“Peter Pan and Wendy,” a modern retelling of the classic J.M. Barrie play, has been racking up positive reviews since it opened earlier this month at Shakespeare Theatre Company.
My 8-year-old son, Levi, said it was “funny.”
I invited Levi to be my date on opening night because I thought he’d get a kick out of watching professional actors sing “I Won’t Grow Up” and dance to “Hook’s Tarantella,” two of the musical numbers he performed last spring in his ATMTC Academy theater class.
But as the show got underway, I quickly realized that Lauren Gunderson’s adaptation was not a musical. Oops.
Sitting in the mezzanine, I worried Levi would become bored without any high-energy song and dance scenes. And he did squirm in his seat quite a bit, but he also laughed — a lot.
He thought the Darling family’s repartee in the children’s nursery was hysterical (“They were just arguing about the same thing over and over again!”) and nearly fell out of his chair laughing when the Lost Boys welcomed Wendy, John and Michael into their underground home.
Tinkerbell amused him, too, but his favorite character was Captain Hook. “He was just really funny and pushing people away in a funny way,” said Levi. “He was also a good actor.”
Tony Award-nominated actor Derek Smith plays Mr. Darling/Captain Hook and Jenni Barber, another Broadway veteran, plays Mrs. Darling/Tinkerbell. Sinclair Daniel makes her Shakespeare Theatre Company debut as Wendy, a budding scientist with dreams of becoming the next Marie Curie.
Wendy’s brothers, John and Michael, are portrayed by Christopher Flaim and Chauncey Chestnut, respectively.
And Justin Mark plays Peter Pan, who, in Gunderson’s adaptation, brims with youth and joy but struggles to connect with others.
Levi surprised me by picking up on this aspect of Peter Pan’s character. “It’s important to keep people close to you and to take care of your friends,” he explained to me at the end of the play.
When I asked him whether he thought his 5-year-old brother would enjoy “Peter Pan and Wendy,” Levi said it might be too scary for him. I don’t necessarily agree — there’s a larger-than-life crocodile puppet that’s more fantastical than frightening — but I do think my kindergartner would have an even harder time than Levi sitting through the entire production, which runs two hours and 10 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
In addition to humor, Gunderson’s script stands out for its “girl power” messaging. The playwright updated J.M. Barrie’s story to make the female characters — Wendy, Tiger Lily and Tinkerbell — the heroines in this imaginative adventure.
“It is very important to me that this play appeals as much to adults as to young audiences,” said director Alan Paul, in a press release. “Adult audiences will respond deeply to the play’s reflection on youth, time and mortality, while audiences young and old will find delight in the play’s magic.”
“Peter Pan and Wendy” is recommended for audiences 5 years and older, and youth tickets for children ages 5-14 are specially priced at $35. The show runs at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall (610 F Street NW, Washington, DC 20004) through January 12, 2020, with a New Year’s Day performance scheduled for 2 p.m. on January 1.
Shakespeare Theatre Company has also added a relaxed performance on Saturday, January 11 at 2 p.m. Tickets for this performance will be general admission, allowing audience members to enter and leave the house as they wish, and the sound and lighting will be adjusted to reduce the sensory experience.
By PJ Feinstein