and Broadway in Chicago
At Chicago Tribune Freedom Center, 650 W. Chicago
Adapted by Tanya Ronder
Music composed and conducted by Benjamin Wallfisch
Directed by Ben Harrison
Wednesdays at 2pm and 7pm
Thursdays and Fridays at 7pm
Saturdays at 2pm and 7pm
Sundays at 1pm and 5pm
Running Time: Two hours and thirty minutes included a delayed start and intermission
Reviewed by Katy Walsh
I believe. I believe. I believe… I got caught up in the hype of this show. Threesixty degrees and Broadway in Chicago presents JM Barrie’s PETER PAN. The pixie dusting of marketing around this touring show built Christmas morning-like anticipation. I was ready to be flown away by cirque-type theatrical stunts. Instead, I was amused and bemused by the intention of the show. Although the story is classic child’s play, the advertisements promote an innovative spectacle adult-worthy. This PETER PAN is stuck somewhere in-between kids and grown-ups.
Upon arrival, it is a circus by the river ambiance. The gangplank is adorned with a PETER PAN retrospective. A secondary tent peddles beverages, popcorn and Neverland paraphernalia. Despite the 1,300 seat capacity, the Big Top has an intimate theatre-in-the-round feel. For the kid in all of us, the 360 degree cinematic projections provide a Disney on I-Max feel. Even though soaring across ye old London is a great adventure, the surround visual is fairly stagnant. Primarily, the imagery resorts to a jungle or harbor scene. So, it’s like sitting in a cartoon. There is flying! Peter, Tink, the Darling kids and mermaids get to spin around. It’s just limited to a few sequences and not incredibly vibrant. Emily Yetter (Tinker Bell), who is one nimble, high-spirited pixie, is the aerobatic exception. There is also a sprinkling of puppetry, an impressive two-man operated crocodile and a friendly shaggy dog. All these elements will appeal to anyone’s (inner) child. But that’s where the kidding ends!
Although well-acted, the story itself is not American kid friendly. It’s too long, too serious, and too British. Playwright Tanya Ronder has adapted the story drawing out relational dynamics between sons and mothers, sons and fathers, girls and boy. It’s an interesting idea for adults to ponder onstage or in therapy. Kids?! Couldn’t they Peter Pan it a little longer? The content also shifts a little sinister for children. Steven Pacey (Mr. Darling/Captain Hook) gives a sarcastic and dark twist to the villain. The departure from the familiar arrogant goof of animation is clever for adults. Kids?! Pacey slits a pirate’s throat. I don’t know what age that becomes appropriate for. The British-accented dialogue and the running time might also be hard for younger kids to understand and endure. The magical experience is grounded by dramatic reality.
I’ve now seen three PETER PAN shows this year. Emerald City’s Peter Pan was a fun family pleaser with comedy and sentimentality that reaches the child in all of us. Lookingglass Theatre’s adaptation was a whimsical spectacle swirled in dark realism with a definite adult target. Threesixty Degrees’ PETER PAN fits somewhere in between kids and adults, extravaganza and stageplay, pretend and reality, flying and grounded.
Accurately identifying the panoramic London landmarks, James describes it with ‘Not Barrie Good!’
Production photography courtesy of Kevin Berne.