A new take on ‘Peter Pan’ soars into the National Theatre

The touring production newly adapted by Larissa FastHorse is a technical marvel with many good performances, but some gravitas got lost.

Are any of us really in a hurry to grow up? The lively crowd at the National Theatre Wednesday evening would respond with a resounding “No!” Broadway at the National is currently featuring a new adaptation of Peter Pan the musical, revamped by celebrated playwright Larissa FastHorse. This new take on the original features a few new numbers and clever updates while sticking to tried and true classics. If the raucous applause upon Peter’s first flight onstage is anything to go by, this generation of theatergoers is just as interested in Peter and his story as they were in 1989.

Nolan Almeida as Peter Pan makes his entrance in ‘Peter Pan.’ Photo: Matthew Murphy

Much of the new material works quite well, like “Friends Forever”— a number featuring Tiger Lily, her crew, and Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. Replacing the incredibly dated and offensive “Ugg-a-Wugg,” “Friends Forever” is performed at the end of Act I and serves as a plot device to get our beloved leads in one place so they can form an alliance — and have a dance-off. Catchy and choreography-heavy, “Friends Forever” is an excellent example of how original intention does not have to mean inflexibility. This new number is both technically better and respectful, rather than lazy and ignorant.

On the flip side, the other new number is a short reprise of the Lost Boys’ famous “I Won’t Grow Up” at the beginning of Act II — titled “We Hate Those Kids.” One wonders if this number — performed by the Pirates in front of the curtain — was created to pad the running time or allow for a set change. Nothing of substance came of it other than a few chuckles, and it failed to add any tangible character moments for the Pirates. Why would they sing anything remotely similar to the Lost Boys? The Pirates pride themselves on having little to nothing in common with children and consider the Lost Boys their nemesis. In the score, every number initiated by the Pirates as a group exists outside the main narrative and serves as meta-exposition or is a vehicle for Captain Hook’s evil plans. “We Hate Those Kids” veers sharply away from the character-driven numbers we come to expect from the Pirates and winds up being more confusing than anything else.

Technically, Peter Pan at the National is a marvel. Flying-sequences choreographer Paul Rubin clearly put many hours toward ensuring the actors are comfortable being lifted and lowered on their wires, and the many backflips performed by Nolan Almeida as Peter had the audience cheering for more. The projections designed for John, Michael, Wendy, and Peter’s flight to Neverland were beautifully detailed, taking the audience on a rollercoaster ride through London. Projection designer Bavid Bengali must be congratulated on such a clever concept.

The sets were gorgeous as well, and it was impossible not to let out a gasp as the many mossy green platforms that make up the Lost Boys’ hideout came rolling in. Scenic designer Anna Louizos did a bang-up job plunging the audience directly into the heart of Neverland.

The acting standouts came from all over the map, the highlights of which were Hawa Kamara as Wendy and Cody Garcia as Mr. Darling/Captain Hook. Kamara absolutely shone onstage with a gorgeous earnestness and sharp comedic timing. Wendy is a very necessary contrast to the bumbling Lost Boys, and Kamara played the parts of logician and big sister swimmingly. Garcia was an excellent Captain Hook, though the choice to adopt a Scottish accent was confusing. Garcia’s otherwise nuanced performance was hampered by Lonny Price’s direction; their Mr. Darling was too far removed from their Captain Hook. There is a very sound reason why the actor playing Mr. Darling doubles for Hook — Darling’s children see him as a villain in Act I. This is why, when the children return home, we see a completely changed father. Garcia is clearly a skilled performer; one wishes director Lonny Price had spent some more time with the actors discussing underlying themes.

TOP: “I’m Flying.” Micah Turner Lee as John, Reed Epley as Michael, Hawa Kamara as Wendy, Nolan Almeida as Peter Pan. ABOVE: “Hook’s Tarantella.” Cody Garcia (center) as Captain Hook and the cast of ‘Peter Pan.’ Photos by Matthew Murphy.

Stakes were a huge pitfall for this production — the story of Peter Pan is magical and scary. The character of Peter can be both wonderful and tyrannical, Hook can be both charismatic and ruthless, the Pirates can be both goofy and bloodthirsty. The most interesting takes on J.M. Barrie’s novel are the ones that aren’t afraid to challenge the young audiences to think about what they are seeing. This production decided to brush over (or leave out) Pan’s declaration of “This time, it’s Hook or me!,” one of the Lost Boys asking Peter to kill him after discovering he has killed the Wendy Bird, tying Tiger Lily to Marooners Rock and leaving her for dead, Peter’s line “To die will be an awfully big adventure,” the Lost Boy’s line “or be banished if we don’t” (referring to the consequences of growing up), and indeed, Hook’s death at the hands of the crocodile. Spoon-feeding the audience emotional moments and refusing to lend any gravitas to the show’s many life-or-death moments left this production essentially toothless. The National Theatre’s Peter Pan is a technical marvel with many good performances but don’t forget: the only thing separating Peter Pan from Lord of the Flies is fairy dust.

Peter Pan plays through April 21, 2024, at the National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington. Tickets ($69–$139) are available online or at the box office.

The cast and creative credits for the touring production are here.

COVID Safety: Masks are strongly recommended but not required for all ticket holders. For full COVID protocol, go here.

ASL Interpretation is available during the 2:00 pm performance on Saturday, April 13. Audio Description is available during the 2:00 pm performance on Saturday, April 13, and the 1:00 pm performance on Thursday, April 18.


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