When you go to see a classic children’s production, you’re not expecting an evening that’s going to knock your socks off. While most of the performances in Charleston Stage’s Peter Pan won’t leave you speechless, the stunningly elaborate set might, along with the enthusiasm that only a troupe of child actors can deliver.
J.M. Barrie’s well-known group of rascals is all present — Peter Pan, Wendy, Hook, the Lost Boys, and the rest of your favorites make appearances in the beloved tale of youthfulness and magic. For those of you not familiar with the story (and thus most likely untouched by the charm of Walt Disney), Wendy Darling and her younger brothers John and Michael are spirited away from their English bedroom one summer’s eve by a boy named Peter Pan, who refuses to grow up. The theme of eternal youth carries the production through mystical jungles, the high seas, and mermaid lagoons.
The show makes use of many child actors, who all do their part to make their roles believable and cheery. It seemed like the audience particularly looked forward to the appearance of the Lost Boys, whose silly demeanors and even sillier line deliveries were a joy to watch. Mikey Nagy, one of Charleston Stage’s resident actors, portrayed Toodles, the leader of the Lost Boys, as an easily frustrated yet eager companion of Peter Pan’s. Young actor Jerrad Aker played the role of Slightly, another Lost Boy, for the second time in his career and was charming and memorable.
Sam Chase and Luke Shaw appeared as the aptly named Darling brothers, and they were as adorable as their name suggests. Luke’s lines elicited squeals of delight from the women in the audience who were overcome with his cuteness, and Sam’s British accent and attempts at playing a grown-up gentleman were equally endearing. Charleston School of the Arts’ freshman Prentice Clark was the show’s clear star as Wendy, and her role as a motherly girl who watches over the other children in the story was warm and convincing.
While it’s probably hard to play Peter Pan without overdoing it, Jordan Ellis’ portrayal lacked the outright charm and likability that seemed to come naturally to his co-stars. Unfortunately, it wasn’t apparent that he fully committed to the role — during the classic scene in which Peter asks the audience to help revive Tinkerbell, it seemed like the audience “believed in fairies” more than he did. He did fly through the show with ease from scene to scene, and proved to be a great foil for his enemy, Captain Hook.
Kyle Barnette’s Hook was more light-hearted than dastardly, and he left most of the “argggs” and stereotypical pirate behavior to his hilarious crew. Hook’s pirate crew was also enjoyable, due to the slapstick wackiness they conveyed. Resident actors Ira Lindberg Harris and Lee Hollis Bussie were quite funny as angry pirates.
This elaborate production will wow children much more than a viewing of the Disney movie on your flat-screen at home, and adults will enjoy themselves, too. If all else fails and you get bored with the predictable story, draw parallels between the prose and Johnny Depp’s turn as J.M. Barrie in Finding Neverland. Thinking about the reasoning behind why Barrie placed certain symbolism into the show will occupy you for much longer than the two-hour run.