Theatre@CBT’s Peter Pan: something to crow about

Without lighting, special effects or much scenery, a talented creative team produces a treat of a performance from sheer strength of imagination

Filled to bursting with Warrior Girls, Lost Boys, dastardly Pirates from tiny to extra-large, and flying children, Theatre@CBT’s Peter Pan is a treat from start to finish. Director Kevin Sockwell, Music Director Sam Weich and Producer Lauren-Nicole Gabel should be commended for taking on such an ambitious show in the challenging space of the Sanctuary at Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac.

L-R: Elizabeth A. Weiss, Carol Jones, Tom Barylski, Michael Abendshein, and Colleen Williams in 'Peter Pan' at Theatre@CBT. Photo by Mark McLaughlin.
L-R: Elizabeth A. Weiss, Carol Jones, Tom Barylski, Michael Abendshein, and Colleen Williams in ‘Peter Pan’ at Theatre@CBT. Photo by Mark McLaughlin.

It’s a shame that the lack of either a raised stage or a raked audience makes it difficult to see the business that happens on the floor, because that is some of the most amusing. With no lighting, special effects or even much scenery to speak of, the creative team manages to produce scenes from London to Neverland and back from sheer strength of imagination, and brings the audience right along.

For example, one might think that in a show with a famous song “I’m Flying,” the inability to lift characters into the air would be a serious drawback. But Sockwell and Choreographers Nancy Scales Harry and Rikki Howie Lacewell simply launch Peter and the Darling children into the audience, whooshing up and down the aisles, while clouds, stars, the moon and the London skyline race by (nimbly carried by the children in the cast). The Darling house is evoked by a doghouse, a window, a fireplace and three boxes covered with quilts, Neverland by a painted tree stump, and Captain Hook’s ship by nothing more than the conviction of the actors that that is where we are. It works.

Kudos also to Director Sockwell and Child Wrangler Lauren Fielding for managing such a large cast of small and not-so-small actors, who rush onstage and off and carry off their complex and varied dance numbers with admirable precision. The motley Pirate Crew consists of hysterical adults and adorable children who couldn’t be less menacing if they tried. The Warrior Girls are impressively Amazonian and acrobatic.

Elizabeth Weiss’s costumes deserve praise, especially for turning the traditional (and inappropriate) “Indians” of the original production into these strong Warriors, with leather armor and original face paint. The Darling family’s lovely costumes evoke a classic, vaguely Victorian era. The Pirates are suitably ragged, and Captain Hook has an impressive tricorn hat, red coat, and working hook.

Music Director Weich’s work is very effective. His eight-piece orchestra sounds bigger than it is, with one drawback: the orchestra’s volume occasionally made it difficult to hear the dialogue onstage. The orchestra also makes the most of the lovely score, especially the lullaby “Tender Shepherd,” sung as a round by Mrs. Darling (the lovely Lauren-Nicole Gabel) and her children (Jessie Duggan, Sari Gabel, Sammi Friel), and the Lost Boys’ lively solos in “I Won’t Grow Up.”

The Warrior Girls. Photo by Mark McLaughlin.

The principal performances are fine as well. Wendy (Jessie Duggan) manages to be both an enthusiastic little girl and a capable mother figure in turn, and is particularly adept at being attacked by a jealous Tinker Bell (played by a frenetic laser pointer). Mr. Darling (Jeff Breslow) proves suitably pompous. The Crocodile (Harrison Shaw) is utterly adorable, especially when showing up at the end with a knife and fork, ready for Captain Hook. Tiger Lily (Jaida Weisel) is a stately and impressive Princess of the Warrior Girls. Grown-Up Wendy (Elizabeth Weiss) is an appropriate match for her younger counterpart, beautiful and touching. Captain Hook is suitably threatening, but his excellent comedy takes the edge off.

In the title role, Laura Searles is terrific — proud yet innocent, crowing his own praise and yet still a little boy. Searles’ voice is a treat, especially in the surprisingly operatic, funny and energetic “Oh, Mysterious Lady” duet with Hook.

Director Sockwell, Music Director Weich and Producer Gabel have devised a show that is a delight for both audience and cast. The 30-some children in this production have clearly learned a lot and enjoyed even more. They will remember this introduction to the theater all their lives. If Theatre@CBT can produce work like this in such a technically limited space, it is a wonder to think what they could do in a real theater.

Running Time: Approximately two hours, with one 10-minute intermission.

Theatre@CBT’s Peter Pan plays through Sunday, February 23, 2020, at Congregation B’nai Tzedek, 10621 South Glen Road, Potomac, MD. For tickets, buy at the door, or purchase online.

Pirate Crew: Hanna Barlow, Dina Burman, Michael Chernoff, Ryan Cookler, Sadie Hosid, Carol Jones, Arielle Kats, Lauren Lerner-Naft, Rachel Melick, MollyBeth Rushfield, Harrison Shaw, Elizabeth A. Weiss, Levi Weiss, Seth Weiss, Colleen Williams, Sabrina Williams, Laila Yunes.

Warrior Girls: Jayna Breslow, Rebecca Brophy, Hannah Chernoff, Mira Conte, Maya Ehrlich, Abby Fielding, Becca Fielding, Jessa Gabel, Addison Greenbaum, Jordyn Jeweler, Emma Lipworth, Olivia Martin, Sera Shaw.

Lost Boys: Ella Fielding, Liat Topolosky, Sydney Martin, Eden Shaw, Jackie Williams.

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Jennifer Georgia
Over the past four decades, Jennifer has acted, directed, costumed, designed sets, posters and programs and generally theatrically meddled in Maryland, Princeton, London, and Switzerland. She has made a specialty of playing old bats – no, make that “mature, empowered women” – including Mama Rose in Gypsy, the Wicked Stepmother in Cinderella at Montgomery Playhouse; Dolly in Hello, Dolly! and Carlotta in Follies in Switzerland; and Mrs. Hardcastle in She Stoops to Conquer, Golde in Fiddler on the Roof, and Mrs. Higgins in My Fair Lady in London. (Being the only American in a cast of 40, playing the woman who taught Henry Higgins to speak, was nerve-racking until a fellow-actor said, “You know, it’s quite odd – when you’re on stage you haven’t an accent at all.” Her most recent indomitable female was in a student-directed film where she played the monster Grendel’s Mother – a role last embodied on film by Angelina Jolie in a CGI coat of gold paint; Jennifer took it in a rather different direction. (She has no idea why she keeps getting cast as these imposing matriarchs; actually she is quite easy-going. Really). She has also directed shows including You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown and Follies, and most recently Woody Allen’s Mr. Big in the MP One Acts Festival. She is also the Publicity and Promotions Director for Montgomery Playhouse. In real life she is a speechwriter and editor.

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