Review: ‘Peter Pan’ by Vienna Theatre Company

J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan is a classic tale whose title character first appeared in a 1902 novel from the same author. Peter is a carefree spirit, who never wants to grow up and embodies innocence, wonder, and confidence. Now, over 100 years after the character’s creation, Peter Pan is brought to life once more by Vienna Theatre Company, in their production of Peter Pan, with adaptations by the show’s Director, Jessie Roberts.

Amanda Marra (Wendy) and Carolyn Heier (Peter) in Vienna Theatre Company's production of Peter Pan. Photo by Matthew Randall.
Amanda Marra (Wendy) and Carolyn Heier (Peter) in Vienna Theatre Company’s production of Peter Pan. Photo by Matthew Randall.

Minor adjustments are made, but for deep-seated reasons which Roberts explains in the program. The character of Peter, though traditionally played by a girl acting as a boy, is in fact female. Carolyn Heier plays Peter, and Roberts explains that the character’s “bravery and strong will are compelling aspects of her personality” that are an example of “female empowerment and an independence” that would “be taken for granted when the character is portrayed as a boy.”

Heier does an excellent job as Peter, taking command of the stage and the play and guiding the energy of the show.

Most aspects of the original are intact, though. Peter loses her shadow and wakens the Darling children in their nursery while attempting to retrieve it.

Amanda Marra does a lovely job playing the caring and kind Wendy, who comes to Peter’s aid. Michael (Lindsey Newberg) and John (Bella Panciocco) then fly with Wendy (their older sister) and Peter back to Neverland, with the help of magic fairy dust.

This production had stagehands in black lifting the actors briefly to show them flying. I found the effect distracting, and wonder if slight choreography may have served the effect better–though I acknowledge that my take may be a matter of personal preference.

The show continues to follow the main script with the adorable Nana (Isabella Walrath), the underappreciated canine nanny, and the lovely, tinkling Tinkerbell (Elisabeth Dupuy), Peter’s right-hand fairy.

In yet another variation from traditional productions, Roberts chose to have bits of narration interspersed throughout the play, taken directly from Barrie’s original script. She explains in the program that her intention was to emphasize Barrie’s “insight and feelings for his characters and the situation he creates” by including the stage directions he lays out in great detail in the play.

These narrations are interesting but tend to slow the pace of the play and I wonder if the sections would mesh better with the action if they were read live, as opposed to being pre-recorded.

Still, true to form, there is the dreaded Captain Hook, played by Nathan McGraw, who is determined to see the downfall of the impetuous Peter. Hook is aided by his pirate crew: Smee (Erin Gallalee), Starkey (Dash Samari), Jukes (Isabella Walrath), Noodler (Sarah Bleier), and Cecco (Samba Pathak).

Erin Gallalee (Smee), Capt. Hook (Nathan McGraw), Starkey (Dash Samari), Jukes (Isabella Walrath), Noodler (Sarah Bleier), and Cecco (Samba Pathak) in Vienna Theatre Company's production of Peter Pan. Photo by Matthew Randall.
Erin Gallalee (Smee), Capt. Hook (Nathan McGraw), Starkey (Dash Samari), Jukes (Isabella Walrath), Noodler (Sarah Bleier), and Cecco (Samba Pathak) in Vienna Theatre Company’s production of Peter Pan. Photo by Matthew Randall.

Hook is constantly foiled by Peter’s cleverness, as is seen in Peter’s rescue of the Mermaid (Karn Ford)–traditionally the rescue of Tiger Lily.

This scene, in particular, illustrates the obvious care and attention that the creative staff, including Set Designer Denise Perrino, paid to the show, using a light blue cloth manipulated by stagehands to represent the rippling surface of the water.

And just as Hook has his men, Peter must have her Lost Boys. Slightly (Tali Klein), Tootles (Constance Meade), Nibs (Melinda Goldfedder), and Curly (Liz Mogrovejo) help Peter to rally against the crooked Hook as he tries to destroy them.

Lastly, I must mention that Hook and Peter have some lively fight scenes, with the guidance of Fight Choreographer Jim Campanella.

Peter Pan is a lovely trip down memory lane, and Vienna Theatre Company has assembled a committed cast to portray this beloved adventure. Their adaptation of Peter Pan adds new relevance and takes the classic story that celebrates the beauty of boldness and individuality to the benefit of all children, boys and girls alike.

Running Time: One hour and 50 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

Peter Pan runs through February 3, 2019, at the Vienna Community Center –  120 Cherry Street SE, Vienna, VA. Tickets are available in advance during community center hours, at the door, or online.