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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
Ever since the Victorian era when the play by James M. Barrie first appeared, the role of Peter Pan has been traditionally played by a woman. So let's blame Maude Adams, America's first Peter Pan for launching a century-old tradition of women performers usurping the exploits of Barrie's young hero. Notwithstanding the British tradition of accepting Peter Pan as a suitable role for males, America has preferred Neverland as the domain of such famous female fliers as Jean Arthur, Mary Martin, Sandy Duncan, and Cathy Rigby. The Paper Mill Playhouse broke that tradition in 1994 when its artistic director Robert Johanson played Peter Pan and about whom I said, "suited the role as any who have captured my imagination."
Now its time to say that Nancy Anderson is as ideal a Peter Pan as you could hope would fly across the same stage courtesy of the special rigging supplied by ZFX Inc. and the awesome flying choreography by Paul Rubin. But it's on the ground that Anderson truly wins our hearts with a spunky performance that projects more mere physical agility. She brings with her something you could call a uniquely boyish glow.
Anderson, who charmed Broadway audiences as Eileen in the revival of Wonderful Town and most recently was a highlight in the Off Broadway musical Yank! (review) maybe wasn't to the high-wire born, but she flies past the second star to the right and straight into musical theater heaven. Her silvery soprano gets as much of a workout has does her dancing and dueling.
Audiences familiar with the score find it almost hard not to sing along as Peter belts out "I've Got a Crow" and "I'm Flying." With the lithe and limber Anderson, we have a Peter who can also hold her own in the most strenuous dance numbers.
The dancing, and there's plenty of it, as choreographed by Patti Colombo, is as playful as it is athletic. While one is amused by the comical cavorting by the pirates and also by the lost boys, a lengthy tribal dance number that showcases a vivacious and acrobatic Jessica Lee Goldyn as Tiger Lily, literally stops the show. That number is also highlighted by Anderson and Goldyn performing some extraordinary coordinated drumming on the tom toms. I recall that Goldyn had another show-stopping turn as Val in the Broadway revival of A Chorus Line.
But what production of Peter Pan can win us over completely without a Captain Hook who is can affect a slightly campy, singularly insinuating and slavishly pretentious portrayal? That's Douglas Sills, that's who.
Sills is no stranger to the grand gesture as he demonstrated in the title role of the musical The Scarlet Pimpernel, or to the cartoonishly satirical as in the revival of Little Shop of Horrors. He puts his fiendishly foppish foot forward as a Hook that can take its place among the most self-celebrating pirate captains of them all. As it also the tradition, Sills plays the role of the stiff-necked (so stiff that he popped his tie at the performance I saw) autocratic Mr. Darling.
If Glory Crampton, who has played nine leading ladies at the Paper Mill Playhouse (all rather gloriously) doesn't have a lot to do as Mrs. Darling, she nevertheless does it with grace. She looks particularly radiant in an extravagant grape colored gown created by costume design by Shigeru Yaji. Yaji's colorful and extravagantly whimsical costumes are an eyeful, as are the imaginative scenic designs by John Iacovelli, worthy of the applause they got on opening night.
The appealing Darling children (Lewis Grosso as Michael, Hayley Podschun as Wendy and Josh Pins as John) seem as at home on the stage as they do in flight. Not to be overlooked is the ever threatening creepy crawly appearances of the huge green Crocodile with the glowing red eyes, as played by Todd A. Walker. And Casey Garvin woofed affectionately as the children's nursemaid Nana who is now presumably a St. Bernard after starting out as a Newfoundland according to theater legend.
It should be noted that Jean Arthur along with Boris Karloff, as Captain Hook, appeared in the play version in 1950 that included five songs by Leonard Bernstein. All the subsequent Peter Pans have appeared in the musical with a score by Mark ("Moose") Charlap (songs), Jule Styne (additional songs), Carolyn Leigh (lyrics) and Betty Comden and Adolph Green (additional lyrics).