In fits and starts, the Neptune Theatre production of Peter Pan is full of the theatrical magic that makes pantomime the perfect introduction for children into the theatre. And in a show where the production values are phenomenal, and the cast is strong, it’s just too bad its story is stretched to nearly three hours.
While shows like Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, the mega-musical Les Miserables and the family drama August: Osage County can merit a run time of that magnitude, telling the story of the boy who never wants to grow up shouldn’t. Judging by the often muted opening night reaction, I wasn’t the only one who thought so.
Webb’s version of the familiar Peter Pan doesn’t stray too far from its source material with a couple of exceptions. Gone is a problematic Tiger Lily storyline; Hook is a woman, and the Lost Boys become the Lost Kids. It’s all very woke, and for that, writer/director Jeremy Webb gets full marks.
Unfortunately, while Webb and his team seem to throw everything at the wall, not much sticks. It often feels as though everything that was deemed hilarious in the rehearsal hall made it into the final product. Often muddying what should be a simple, clear and concise story, Webb’s lack of editing contributed to an already long run time.
Audiences might well wonder if the show should have been called Hook the Panto given the amount of stage time Kelly Holiff receives as Captain Hook. Thankfully she swaggers and struts around the stage with a killer voice.
However, like last year’s Cinderella, Webb never truly allows his baddies to be too bad. With booing the villain one of the best parts of a pantomime, it’s disappointing Webb doesn’t allow Holiff to really make her Hook evil. Webb also gives Holiff an incredible 11 o’clock number that comes about 10 minutes into the show. While a great choice and hilariously performed by Holiff, it is oddly timed.
Holiff’s number was also the beginning of other song choices contributing to weighing the story down and slowing the proceedings. While no one is expecting Sondheim in a panto, actively groaning as a song begins is probably not the reaction you want for your musical.
Act two fares better, opening with “Bad to the Bone” sung by Hook’s pirates and a great throwback to Smashmouth’s “All Star” sung by the Lost Kids. Unfortunately, it all comes a little too late.
Production values, on the other hand, are phenomenal. Tamara Marie Kucheran’s sets are colourfully over the top, Helena Marriott’s costumes are to die for, and Vicky Williams’ impeccable lighting design is the delectable cherry on top. And wait until you see Peter and the Darling children’s flight to Never-You-Mind-Land.
The cast is uniformly strong, with a few standouts. Top of the list is Jeremy Legat’s hilarious Michael. Dry and witty, Legat plays Michael like an 80-year-old who just wants to take a nap. Making his Neptune debut, one hopes he’ll be back on a Halifax stage soon.
Becca Guilderson’s Tink is a revelation. Half scatterbrained, half flirty nymph and all sass, her interactions with the audience were highlights of the evening.
Ryan Wilson also does nice work as the dog Nana, and both the pirates and Lost Kids all do their best to create specific and memorable characters, especially the pirate with the Scottish brogue.
With all the goofiness of a pantomime, Brandon Antonio’s Peter and Julie Lumsden’s Wendy do get a little lost. While both are competent and sing well, there was a lack of charisma emanating beyond the footlights.
But for all its positives, including a cast game for all of the usual panto nonsense, it feels half baked. A lack of audience participation (including an over-obvious audience plant stolen right out of One Man, Two Guvnors), far too long run time and a lack of toe-tapping production numbers may not have you believing in fairies, but it will have you wondering what could have been.
Peter Pan adapted from J.M. Barrie’s novel by Jeremy Webb. Directed by Jeremy Webb. A Neptune Theatre production. On stage at Neptune Theatre’s Fountain Hall (1589 Argyle St, Halifax) until January 11. Visit neptunetheatre.com for tickets and information.