With the wide availability of special effects in movies, video games and even smartphone applications, it may be surprising to see young audiences gasp at the illusion of flight, but when Peter Pan helps Wendy Darling and her two younger brothers soar above the stage, it's a captivating moment in Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts' production of the Broadway musical.
The adaption of J.M. Barrie's story starts in the Darling bedroom shared by Wendy (Christian Tarzetti), Michael (Jaden Norris) and John (Simon Rucker), after the family dog (Katie Lynn Cotaya) finds herself unfairly exiled to the yard for sniffing out a mysterious nighttime visitor, Peter Pan (Ross Quinn). Peter lost his shadow during a previous visit and wants it back. Wendy helps sew it back on, and when Peter shares his story about living with fairies in an exotic land, she wants to go there with him. The Darling siblings fly with Peter to Neverland, where they meet the Lost Boys, flee from Captain Hook (Matt Reed) and make friends with an Indian tribe led by Tiger Lilly (Gabrielle Edgerson).
There are many flying interludes in the show, including scenes in which an airborne Peter thwarts his nemesis Captain Hook aboard the Jolly Roger, but the production finds its warmth and appeal in its characters' generosity and yearning to be part of a big family. Peter Pan doesn't want to grow up, but even he likes the idea of having a mother. He recruits Wendy to play that role for the Lost Boys — though there's something dated about Wendy wanting to act as their mother instead of enjoying the carefree spirit of youth like the boys. But even some of the pirates find themselves yearning for inclusion in a family.
The large cast includes several clans — the Darlings, the Lost Boys, the Indians and the pirates — and the stage is often full and busy. Director Kelly Fouchi skillfully directs traffic as the Lost Boys befriend Indians and battle pirates. Fouchi also lets the young leads shine, particularly in solos including Peter's "Neverland" and Wendy singing for the Lost Boys. Caroline Cuseo's choreography is generally playful and silly, as in "Hook's Tango" and "Hook's Tarantella." The swordfighting scenes aren't as smooth as the flying jaunts, but a stage full of combatants keeps the action moving.
Quinn plays Peter with confidence and gusto, reveling in his desire to stay young forever. Tarzetti is entertaining as the breathless Wendy who first encounters Peter and the determined young woman who looks after the boys. Reed is funny as a John Cleese-like Captain Hook and Gary Rucker steals a few laughs as Hook's assistant Mr. Smee. Tucker Godbold is boisterous as the Lost Boy Tootles.
There are a few jokes for adults, but the show is pitched at young audiences. Hook is at times a fearsome figure, but he also is comically inept and reduced to panic by his nemesis, a roving crocodile. (Following the show, Hook, Peter and Wendy are available for photos in the lobby.)
David Raphel's sets are detailed and maneuvered impressively as Rivertown's modest stage is quickly transformed from the Darling's bedroom to the two-tiered Lost Boys encampment in the tropical Neverland and pirates' ship with mast and sail.
Peter appears and takes off in a cloud of glittery confetti, or "fairy dust," and the production is a charming spectacle for young audiences and a polished production by Rivertown Theaters.