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Regional Reviews: San Diego

Peter Pan
Moonlight Stage Productions
Review by David Dixon | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's review of Sense and Sensibility

Misty Cotton, Elliot Weaver, Jacob Farry, and Jill Townsend
Photo by Ken Jacques
"The boy who wouldn't grow up" has made several appearances at the Moonlight Amphitheatre. Moonlight Stage Productions presented a rendition of the 1954 musical Peter Pan in 1996 and a junior version in 2000. Peter was even featured in Shrek: The Musical last summer. Once again, he's back in the singing and dancing Broadway hit.

This adaptation follows Sir J.M. Barrie's original play fairly closely. Wendy (Jill Townsend), John (Elliot Weaver) and Michael Darling (Jacob Farry), English siblings, are living relatively normal lives. Their average youth becomes more exciting when they meet Peter (Misty Cotton). Along with the fairy Tinker Bell, the five journey to the magical world of Neverland. Trouble ensues when they encounter "the greatest villain of all time," Captain Hook (Robert J. Townsend).

Like the best family adventures, the plot appeals to both children and adults. Boys and girls love the fantastical elements in Neverland while mature audiences appreciate the themes about the pros and cons of getting older.

This production, directed by Moonlight's Producing Artistic Director Steven Glaudini, works for all ages and embraces the spectacle aspect of the story. However, Barrie's plot opens small. The Darlings' early conversations rely almost completely on spoken dialogue. Events gradually enlarge when Peter and Tink fly into the Darling nursery, courtesy of effects by ZFX, Inc. Cotton makes a strong first impression and she only gets better throughout the night. Her singing is impactful and she does not always play Peter as an epic hero.

Occasionally narcissistic and arrogant, Cotton's Peter has human flaws that keep him from being a mystical legend. He makes up for his imperfections through joyous enthusiasm and loyalty to his friends. Jill brings charming likability and comforting vocals to the role of Wendy. However, as written, she appears too calm during dangerous situations, especially after the disastrous first encounter with the Lost Boys. There is still an endearing quality to her portrayal. In accordance with Barrie's vision are Robert's Hook and James Vasquez as the pirate's sidekick Mr. Smee. Shigeru Yaji's costumes transform the antagonists into the mismatched team. While Robert brings a little bit of menace to the villain, his most amusing moments are with Vasquez. Robert, as a funny straight man, works well with Vasquez's goofy naiveté.

Songs like "I Won't Grow Up" and "Wendy" flow naturally into the plot—not an easy task when at least five artists (including composer Mark "Moose" Charlap and lyricist Carolyn Leigh) are credited as tunesmiths and songwriters for Peter Pan.

John Iacovelli's set combines paintings and scenery to bring Neverland to the Vista venue. Peter's underground home, Hook's ship, and Marooner's Rock feel true to the sprit of the classic narrative. Peter Herman's wigs deserve to be mentioned, for Robert becomes completely unrecognizable with Hook's signature black hair. Fans may not even realize that the award-winning actor is onstage. Spicing things up is choreographer Carlos Mendoza. A variety of dance styles are covered, from tango to tarantella. Some of the strongest movement is given to the Indian princess Tiger Lily, played by Celeste Lanuza. She is particularly graceful in a wordless sequence with other tribe members.

Jim Zadai's miking allows the orchestra, led by co-musical director and conductor Kenneth Gammie, to have a sound that can be massive and intimate. Several tunes, including "I'm Flying" are wondrously grand, while Tink's melodies are soft and relaxing.

A controversial aspect about Peter Pan needs to be acknowledged. Several incarnations of the tale are not politically correct when it comes to the handling of Native American culture. Although American Indians are portrayed positively under Glaudini's direction, some might be offended by the musical number "Ugg-a-Wugg." Betty Comden and Adolph Green's lyrics use gibberish to represent the indigenous language.

In a summer when horrific real life events are happening on a too frequent basis, the Vista company made a good choice in choosing a very upbeat show for the 2016 season.

Moonlight Stage Productions presents Peter Pan through August 5, 2016, Sundays through Saturdays at 1200 Vale Terrace Dr, Vista. Tickets start at $10.00 and can be purchased online at or by phone at 1-760-724-2110.

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