North Carolina Theatre's current presentation of Peter Pan is simply enchanting, thanks to a crackerjack cast, headed by Los Angeles actress Gail Bianchi as Peter Pan and Raleigh's own Ira David Wood III as Captain Hook, and absolutely spectacular sets, costumes, and flying effects provided by ZFX, Inc.
Boston-based director and choreographer Stephen Terrell, who previously staged warmly applauded NCT productions of Camelot, Mame, The Sound of Music, Guys and Dolls, and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, once again works his theatrical magic to transform Peter Pan into a true musical spectacular, with dynamic dance routines that add snap, crackle, and pop to the proceedings. Indeed, the show’s Technicolor costumes and magnificent recreations of the Nursery of the Darling residence in London and the untamed wilderness and menacing pirate ship of Neverland give a cinematic quality to the proceedings.
But it is the flying of Gail Bianchi as Peter Pan and, to a lesser extent, of rising high school junior Sarah Evelyn Langston, rising eighth-grader Mason Park, and eight-year-old Zachary Hylan as Wendy, John, and Michael Darling that help make NCT’s robust rendition of Peter Pan a must-see musical. Bianchi, who understudied Cathy Rigby during the 2005-06 national tour of Peter Pan, proves in the current North Carolina Theatre presentation of this beloved Broadway musical that she is more than ready for prime time.
Gail Bianchi not only soars high above the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium stage — and even out over the audience during the curtain calls — but she also plays “The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up” with panache, balancing Peter’s emotional immaturity with unquestioned bravery. Indeed, Bianchi proves a perfect foil for David Wood, who hams it up hilariously as the notorious Captain Hook, a blustering bully until someone such as Peter Pan stands up to him — and then he becomes a blubbering coward.
Last Saturday, Wood, who doubles as that legendary fusspot Mr. Darling, dug deep into his considerable bag of comic tricks and funny voices — much to the delight of his many fans — to make Hook a hot dog so big that no bun in the world could contain him. Surely, Wood’s first performance as the craven captain will not be his last.
Christine Hunter and Sarah Evelyn Langston are charming as the unflappable Mrs. Darling and her precocious daughter Wendy, and Mason Park and Zachary Hylan are cute as her little brothers John and Michael. Trumaine Verret-Fleming is amusing as the Darlings’ canine nursemaid Nana and the infernal clock-swallowing Crocodile who dogs Captain Hook, NCT fight captain John O’Creagh is funny as Hook’s scurvy roly-poly first mate Smee, and the lovely and nimble Tracy J. Wholf makes Indian princess Tiger Lily into a vision of grace and beauty. The young and talented Peter Pan supporting cast, many of them products of NCT conservatory training, also add vivid characterizations of assorted Lost Boys, Indians, and Pirates that inhabit Neverland.
Musical director Alfred E. Sturgis makes an auspicious NCT debut. He combines with director/choreographer Stephen Terrell; the charismatic Peter Pan cast; technical director Bill Yates, Jr.; lighting designer John Bartenstein; costumer Ann M. Bruskiewitz; hair, wig, and makeup designer Sarah Opstad; properties mistress Laurie Johnson; and sound designer Jonathan Parke to bring this 1954 Broadway musical version of Scottish novelist and playwright J.M. Barrie’s timeless tale to full, glorious life. And the opening-night audience — who, judged by their applause at a crucial moment, obviously all believe in fairies — rewarded the NCT’s cast and crew’s combined efforts with a hearty standing ovation that went on and on.
The North Carolina Theatre presents Peter Pan, starring Ira David Wood III, Tuesday-Friday, July 15-18, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, July 19, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, July 13, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, 2 E. South St., Raleigh. $26-$76. NCT Box Office: 919/831-6941, ext. 6944, or online via the presenter's website. Group Rates (for groups of 10 or more): http://www.nctheatre.com/group_sales.html [inactive 3/09] or email@example.com. Note: Arts Access will audio-describe the 2 p.m. July 19th performance. North Carolina Theatre: http://www.nctheatre.com. The Musical: http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?id=9959 (Internet Broadway Database) and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0054176/ (Internet Movie Database). E-Text of the 1904 Novel (courtesy Project Gutenberg): http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/16