Who: Syracuse Stage
Where: 82- E. Genesee St. Syracuse NY 13210
When: Nov. 28, 2015 - Jan. 3, 2016
James M. Barrie’s “Peter and Wendy,” “The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up,” and “Peter Pan” have seen their fair share of retelling and reimagining throughout the years. Disney remade the classic in cartoon form in 1953, NBC aired live broadcasts of the performance in 1955 and some years later starring Mary Martin. Spielberg breathed life into the story of a boy who never wanted to grow up in 1991 with A-list actors.
This month, Syracuse Stage and Syracuse University Drama present a co-production of a remarkable musical rendition about Peter Pan, and the people who love, and whom he fails to love in return due to his commitment to remaining a kid.
The play opens with the Darling children in their bedroom, imitating their parents dancing at a ball. The young actors are wonderful in their portrayal of the whimsical nature that’s attached to childhood imitation of adulthood. Séamus Gailor (Matthew Darling) and Matthew Caraccioli (John Darling) hold their own as the younger siblings of Wendy Darling (played by enchanting Syracuse University senior Delphi Borich). The young actors are free of the stiltedness that is often associated with fledgling thespians, and that execution allows the audience to follow them with the wonderful naivety that is childhood.
The scenic backdrop of the actors is equally strong. The audience is introduced to the Darling children, their dog and their maid as night stars equally glow with the long white curtains that swirl and hang around the large, center stage window. There is indeed a children’s bedroom, and the set design doesn’t fret viewers with using their imagination with paltry scenery. Imagination is best used for the awe-inducing flying sequences and for Peter Pan’s mischief in a gorgeously- designed Neverland.
Syracuse Stage not only ups the quality on set design by Linda Buchanan, but Director Peter Barnes decides to do something many Peter Pan rendition haven’t: have a male play the titular role. Petite or small-framed actresses are usually the ones singing about how much being an adult is terrible. With Barnes’ casting, the audience is offered another level of authenticity that even some of the best actresses might have not been able to portray. Moreover, it lets the audience see a glimpse of the sexual attraction that’s usually one-sided between Peter and Wendy.
Senior musical theatre major Troy Hussmann does a commendable job in portraying Peter Pan. He captures the rambunctiousness, melancholy and adventurous spirit that’s essential to the Peter Pan character. It takes his first song, “I Gotta Crow,” to really accept the telling of an adolescent boy through the portrayal of a young man who looks more like a boy-band member. But once he playfully dedicates himself to crow in the show’s second number, we see Peter; and we’re ready for him to take us on a flying expedition to Neverland.
It’s in Neverland where we meet a cocky, yet mildly self-loathing Captain Hook (played by Donald Corren, who also plays Mr. Darling) and his merry men. Each scene with Hook and his blind followers is full of laughs, great comedic execution of timing and choreography. This crew is pathetic, but hilariously so, and well-acted.
We also meet yet another casting shake up by the brilliant Barnes: the casting of Tiger Lily as a speaking character leading a group of warrior women. With this casting, Barnes seeks to make this adaptation of Peter Pan’s story more accepting and less racially offensive as it source material.
Tiger Lily (played by senior theatre major Ana Marcu) portrays Tiger Lily with dignity and honor. She is fierce, fun, smart and always ready to break into a dance number with her followers. The choreography with Tiger Lily and her crew is some of the best in the show, and possibly some of the best Syracuse Stage has seen from a production. The clapping, stomping and chanting are enthralling and do their job in keeping up the magic when Peter Pan isn’t on stage sprinkling pixie dust.
Although the entertainment that the young women provide is also strong, their moves can still leave one to ask if the Native American culture was infused in their steps as they were more reminiscent of college step dance show by a traditionally black organization. Nevertheless, the magic isn’t lost.
Peter Pan might be one of the top productions to see in Syracuse, in terms of actors, set design and overall experience. If you want a Broadway experience, just travel down the road to the Neverland that the Syracuse Stage artfully built.
*All photos by Brenna Merritt.