Toby’s Dinner Theatre has every right to crow about its new staging of Peter Pan. The classic Broadway musical based on James M. Barrie’s 1904 evergreen is deceptively simple — after all, at heart it’s about Lost Boys who yearn for a mother to tell them stories at bedtime.
But once you add in a pirate ship, forest animals, a giant crocodile, an Indian tribe, a fist-sized fairy and a flying superhero, it all makes for a pretty ambitious show to present “in the round,” as at Toby’s.
Never forget, too, that the 1954 Broadway production was staged by theatrical visionary Jerome Robbins. In Columbia the tricky re-invention is in the hands of Co-Directors Toby Orenstein and Mark Minnick, who come up with a rich evening of delights that ultimately may well bring a tear to the eye of those of us, like Wendy, who have grown-up despite our best intentions.
Over the decades, Peter has been played (according to the author’s wishes) by a succession of famous actresses, among them Marilyn Miller, Eva Le Gallienne, Mary Martin, Jean Arthur, Mia Farrow, Veronica Lake, Sandy Duncan, and most recently, Cathy Rigby. Baltimore’s own Betty Bronson played Peter in the first movie version back in 1926.
At Toby’s MaryKate Brouillet leaps into the line of succession with a combination of brash fearlessness and spunky unisexual appeal that proves irresistible. Brouillet’s superior musical training has been on display at Toby’s before, notably as Martha in 1776 and as Eponine in Les Misérables. And who but a trained musician would know to thank the show’s conductor in her program bio?
Early on, Brouillet comes flying in through the upstairs window of the Darling nursery in search of her lost shadow. But she owns the show as soon as she opens her mouth to sing. In “I Gotta Crow,” “I’m Flying” and especially in the evocative balladry of “Neverland” and “Distance Melody,” Brouillet represents “youth and joy and freedom” as she unleashes the ageless magic of the heart.
Stealing this show is no small feat, since it is packed with Toby’s scene-stealing all-stars.
That stellar list must begin with the amazing David Bosley-Reynolds in the dual role of Mr. Darling and Captain Hook. The actor’s strong gifts for accents and comedy are particularly well suited to the show’s fanciful burlesque of male authority figures.
As Mr. Darling, Bosley-Reynolds is the proper image of Victorian fastidiousness and decorum. Then he dons Captain Hook’s feathered three-corner hat to express slapstick villainy as he rules over a most colorful crew of zany pirates, including past Helen Hayes Award winners and finalists David James, Darren McDonnell and Jeffrey Shankle.
The female roles are just as ably played, beginning with the wonderful Heather Marie Beck as Mrs. Darling, who nails the nursery lullaby “Tender Shepherd” then spends most of the rest of the time crawling along on her belly as the hungry, menacing Crocodile.
Amanda Leigh Corbett is making a memorable Toby’s debut here as the Indian maiden, Tiger Lily. She leads the tribe in the “Indian Dance,” impressively choreographed by Mark Minnick, then more than holds her own as a vocalist opposite Peter Pan on “Ugh-A-Wug.”
Another Toby’s newcomer, Katie Tyler is a sensation as Wendy, whether flying on cables or soaring vocally with the other Darling kids on “I Won’t Grow Up!” The next generation of troupers is well represented by Gavin Willard and Anderson Franco, alternating in the role of Michael, and by Jace Franco and Brian Rusk, sharing the spotlight as John.
The Lost Boys is another rich ensemble of talents worth rediscovering. Toby’s regular will appreciate the strong contributions made by AJ Whittenberger, Jordan Moral, Scean Aaron, Chris Rudy, and RJ Pavel.
The live orchestra under the direction of Brandon Fullenkamp helps make all the singers sound their best and positively buoys the dancers. In the technical department, the skills of Lighting Designer Lynn Joslin, Set Designer David A Hopkins, and Sound Designer Mark Smedley also deserve special credit.
Helping individual cast members overcome the limitations of gravity is Hall Associates Flying Effects. Peter Pan also unleashes the considerable imaginations of Costume Designers Lawrence B. Munsey and Mary Quinn, who achieve an array of storybook characters and other creatures.
Parents who fail to book tickets to this show could be accused of criminal child deprivation. How to get to Toby’s? Simple. Take the right exit to Columbia and continue to the stars.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, including one 20-minute intermission.
Peter Pan plays through June 12, 2016 at Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia— 5900 Symphony Woods Road in Columbia, MD. Reservations are required at (301) 596-6161, (410) 730-8311, or 800-88TOBYS, or purchase it online.