'Peter Pan' a state-of-the-art spectacle
Threesixty Entertainment's "Peter Pan" definitely dazzles.
The jolly, state-of-the-art adaptation of the J.M. Barrie classic combines live action, puppetry and aerial arts with arresting, computerized visuals projected on a domed, 360-degree screen inside a specially designed tent that feels intimate even with its 1,300-seat capacity.
Especially enchanting are set and projection designer William Dudley's stunning visual effects, which allow the audience to take flight along with Peter and the Darling children as they soar above London's Tower Bridge, St. Paul's Cathedral and Nelson's Column on their way to Neverland.
Directed by Ben Harrison and adapted by Tanya Ronder (with incidental music by Benjamin Wallfisch), "Peter Pan" faithfully retells Barrie's story of the pubescent boy who refused to grow up and the girl who, for a time, indulged him. However, the characters come across as one-dimensional, and the generational conflict between Peter and Hook could be explored further. But at the end of the day, this "Peter Pan" is all about the spectacle -- aerial thrills and lush, hyper-real CGI backdrops. And on that point, this 360 experience delivers.
The agile Ciaran Joyce plays the impetuous Peter with the right amount of youthful self-absorption while the appealing Evelyn Hoskins stars as Wendy, the young girl who's trying on the role of parent, but whose feelings toward Peter are more romantic than maternal. She's not the only one. Other girls compete with her for Peter's affections, including Tiger Lily (the lithe Heidi Buehler) and Tinker Bell, a feisty fairy with punkish charm superbly played by Emily Yetter, who comes dangerously close to stealing the show.
But while "Peter Pan" flirts with the sexual coming-of-age subtext, it never fully embraces it. But perhaps that's a subject better addressed by another company. (Are you listening Redmoon or House theaters?) To be fair, a show designed with families in mind probably does well to steer clear of controversy. And yet, "Peter Pan" doesn't shy away from violence involving Captain Hook and his pirate crew that might upset very young audience members.
As for Hook, he comes across as an older, far less charming version of Peter: which is to say, an emotionally needy male who desperately craves a mother's warmth and affection. But the parallels don't stop there. In a savvy, deliberate bit of casting, Steven Pacey plays the swaggering albeit deeply self-doubting Hook as well as his upper crust counterpart Mr. Darling, another uncertain man who takes his insecurities out on the family pet, then winds up in the doghouse himself.
Also deserving kudos along with lead puppeteer Joshua Holden, are Sue Buckmaster's delightful puppets, Nana, the Darling's excitable sheepdog and the cleverly designed crocodile that glides across the stage, in search of its nemesis, Hook.
"Peter Pan"★ ★ ★
Location: Freedom Center North, 650 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago. (888) 772-6949 or broadwayinchicago.com
Showtimes: 2 and 7 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday; 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday through June 19
Running time: About 2 hours, 30 minutes, with intermission
Parking: $15 in lot adjacent to the theater tent; paid lots nearby
Tickets: $35 to $125
Rating: For most audiences, fleeting violence may upset very young viewers