By Manning Harris
There’s a charming new production of “Peter Pan” in town, and it’s playing in a magical white tent at Pemberton Place, next to the World of Coca-Cola. Where did it come from? Why, Never-Never Land, of course. Didn’t you hear me say Peter Pan?
Lest you think I’m too saucy, I must confess I’ve been a bit bedeviled by Tinker Bell—and not your grandmother’s Tinker, either. This feisty fairy (played by Emily Yetter) is a young teenage girl, not just a pinpoint of light, and she’s got Bieber fever for the young man named Peter, literally turning cartwheels in the air over him—high in the air.
To backtrack a bit: We’re dealing with the James M. Barrie classic which you’ve probably known since childhood. I first encountered Peter Pan many moons ago as played on television by the legendary Mary Martin, who once said, “Nobody ever seemed to care—certainly children didn’t—whether Peter was a boy or a girl. Peter Pan is, and should be, any age or any sex.” And while I would never quibble with Ms. Martin—Peter is about freedom of spirit and believing and the importance of always staying young in spirit—it does come as a welcome surprise that here Peter is played by a comely young lad (Ciaran Joyce) who makes young hearts flutter and all hearts believe that he has found a way to never grow up.
This show is presented by the British Threesixty Theatre (called simply “threesixty”) in a state-of-the-art theatre tent where CGI (computer generated imagery) is projected 360 degrees on the 100-foot- tall tent’s interior walls; but there are 24 live actors onstage who very much command your attention. Atlanta is the East Coast premiere and only the fourth stop after sellout runs in London, San Francisco, and Orange County.
12 projectors create the illusion of a virtual world, filling the 1,300-seat tent with 15,000 square feet of high resolution video and creating a panoramic set three times the size of an IMAX theatre screen. All this translates into one big “Wow,” especially when Peter flies with Wendy and the boys to Neverland, soaring over all of virtual Edwardian London and beyond.
But it’s the human elements that truly touch the audience, such as the actors’ “flying” on exposed wires that extend from what looks like coat hangers, which the actors casually attach themselves to in full view of the audience. And then off they go, entrusting their lives to the technical wizardry, all to give us abundant thrills.
All your favorite characters are here: Mr. And Mrs. Darling, John, Michael, Wendy, the Lost Boys, Tigerlily, Smee, mermaids, pirates, and of course, Captain Hook. There’s an outstanding music score by Benjamin Wallfisch, but not the songs (“I Won’t Grow Up,” “I’m Flying,” “Neverland”) that I heard in my beloved Mary Martin version. But that’s okay. The production is directed by Ben Harrison.
This is a thrilling, funny, moving, unique entertainment quite unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Both children and adults will love it (the kids in the audience were very attentive—a true tribute!). There’s really not a bad seat in the house. Oh—arrive early so you can view a free “100 Years of Peter Pan” exhibit before the show or during intermission. Allow around 20 minutes. 2011 is turning into quite a year for theatre in Atlanta, and it’s only February! “Peter Pan” will run through March 20. Don’t miss.