Review: CCM’s Peter Pan

Elliot Styles, DJ Plunkett, Alison Bagli, and Clara Cox /  Photo by Mark Lyons
Elliot Styles, DJ Plunkett, Alison Bagli, and Clara Cox / Photo by Mark Lyons

Honestly, I was very concerned about this review on opening night. I left the theatre disappointed; so many things went wrong with the technical elements, the energy overall was lackluster, and it wasn’t up to the usual CCM standard. But then I went back on Friday night and it was a completely different show. Everything clicked. The pacing was better, the timing much improved, and there was an exuberance from the cast, crew, and orchestra that was palpable. This is the PETER PAN I was anticipating.

As is often the case at CCM, the lead role is double-cast. Hannah Zazzaro played Peter on opening night while Clara Cox took on the role Friday.  Talk about different takes!  Zazzaro is cool as a cucumber, laid back, breezy – and is arguably the best vocalist in the musical theatre program at CCM. I’d imagine that Pan has never been sung this well.  Unfortunately, she slipped and fell in Act One on opening night, which just added to the numerous problems and probably shook her confidence  Despite, that she has spunk and energy that makes for an entertaining Pan.  And that voice!  She hits every note with skill and has a stunning vocal presence.  I can’t wait to see where her career takes her after she graduates this spring.  She’s a star.

I contend that the tone of the show is actually set by the actor playing Mr. Darling/Captain Hook.  I actually despise the first Act of this script; it feels painfully long (though it’s actually fairly short).  It’s like the plane ride to a vacation spot – a necessary mechanism to get us to Neverland.  On Thursday, it just seemed like nothing worked.  But Friday night, Irvin came bounding on to the stage with a renewed vigor and his remarkable performance brought with it such an improvement that I began to  enjoy being in the nursery.

Clara Cox as "Peter Pan" / Photo by Mark Lyons
Clara Cox as “Peter Pan” / Photo by Mark Lyons

Irvin tees it up.  But Clara Cox hits the home run.

Everything about Cox’s performance works.  Her physical mannerisms, right down to her walk, demonstrate a deep understanding of the character and it translates into such an enjoyable experience.  Peter Pan is a cocky but innocent, wide-eyed, wild-hearted adventure seeker.  But he’s still just a little boy.  I felt every bit of that through her performance.  Vocally, she’s got power and just a hint of a rasp; it works.  My favorite part of her performance, though, is the joy that she brings to the part – until its time to show the underlying despair and loneliness that this defiant boy-child must feel.  The duet of “Distant Melody” with “Wendy” (Alison Bagli) is sad and moving.  I cried just a little.

She’s surrounded on stage by some of CCM’s finest.  Bagli is one of my favorites; she has a professional presence and brings a genuine warmth to her work in this show (just as she did in CARRIE). Elliot Styles and DJ Plunkett (“John” and “Michael” respectively) play the Darling boys with a posh maturity that aids in the suspension of disbelief. Given their ages, I was concerned about this – but they both do well.  Plunkett, especially, takes acting very seriously and you can see that here.  Also great is the physicality that Chris Morrissey brings to the role of “Nana” (and later, “the Crocodile.”)  Both nights, Nana’s entrance was a crowd-pleasing moment.

 

The Lost Boys, John, Michael, and Peter Pan / Photo by Mark Lyons
The Lost Boys, John, Michael, and Peter Pan / Photo by Mark Lyons

When we finally arrive in Neverland, we meet the Lost Boys. All of them are solid. I especially enjoy the work of Adam Zeph and Tom Meglio, who are usually standouts.  Captain Hook, played with some delicious scene-chewing, looks, sounds, dances, moves, and entertains with gusto.  Irvin, who often has been cast in dark roles in his tenure at CCM, caps off his collegiate career with a solid A performance.  Good for him.

The Pirates / Photo by Mark Lyons
The Pirates / Photo by Mark Lyons

He’s surrounded by a band of pirates, who’s hair, makeup and costuming hide them so well that I’m not even sure who was who in some cases.  I know that I love the work of Tyler Jent as “Smee,” Dallas Padoven as “Cecco,” and Hannah Kornfeld (and her whip) as “Chas.”

The Indians and the Lost Boys / Photo by Mark Lyons
The Indians and the Lost Boys / Photo by Mark Lyons

The Indians, led by “Tiger Lilly” (Samantha Pollino) also shine.  Their dance number, “Indians!” practically steals Act Two.  Pollino is someone I could watch dance for hours; her athleticism, precision, and enthusiasm for the art is infectious.

Director/Choreographer Joe Locarro features some beautiful movement from Kameron Richardson, Kimberly Pine, Kyra Christopher, and Taylor Alexander throughout show, especially during some otherwise boring scene transitions.  Their ballet work is impressive, especially that of Christopher who plays “Liza the Maid” as well as an Indiana.

There are a few scenes where there’s too much happening on stage (the final fight scene, for instance), but overall the blocking and choreography work very well. Given the size of this cast, that can’t be an easy feat.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the solid work from Lawson Young as “Grown Up Wendy.”  Lucarro’s directors notes says, “Although Peter Pan is the catalyst, it is really Wendy’s journey through adolescence and subsequently the journey of her daughter, Jane, and Jane’s daughter after that.”  While the role is small, its vital to the overall story – and Young is exactly the kind of performer you want for this. She makes the most of every fleeting second she’s on stage.

That stage is filled with beautiful set pieces, gorgeous lighting, and fantastic costumes.   Lighting Designer Chris Carter is a student, and his work sets a rich, lush overall tone.  I appreciate the abandoned theme park concept.  While many of the tech elements failed to work properly on opening night, by Friday nearly all were functional (minus a pesky nightlight).  This is a tech heavy show – the flying effects are crucial to the fantasy and if they must work properly.   On Friday, the flights were magical – especially k. Jenny Jones’s final battle between Hook and Pan.  There were gasps from those sitting around me and uncontrolled giggles at these effects.  It was everything I had hoped for.

I am hope, I am joy, I am freedom! – Peter Pan

What a wild ride, eh?  I left Thursday wondering how I would write a review that was honest, yet supportive.  And Friday night, I left the theatre full of hope, joy, and freedom, too.

If you haven’t gotten your tickets yet for this afternoon, tonight, or tomorrow . . . you’ll regret it. This is a winner.

CCM’s PETER PAN runs through this weekend.  Click here for tickets and more information. Up next from the musical theatre department is the Senior Showcase on Thursday, March 26th followed by 110 IN THE SHADE in the Cohen Studio Theatre opening April 9th.

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