Theatre Review: “Peter Pan” at Beef & Boards

Jeff Stockberger and Jon Lambert in Peter Pan at B&BI was heading around I-465 on my way home from seeing “Those Crazy Ladies…“in Lebanon and thinking about what to have for supper.  Suddenly, I realized where I was.  “Hey!  There’s Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre!  Isn’t there a suppertime show on Sunday evenings?  Maybe I can see ‘Peter Pan’ after all!”

I have been trying to keep my theatre habit a habit rather than an addiction, especially since gas prices have made transportation a much more significant part of my theatre budget, but I had been really wishing that I had time to see Jeff Stockberger again.  I enjoyed his work in “Run for Your Wife” and he plays Captain Hook in “Peter Pan.”

To my delight, I was just in time for the Sunday evening show and there was a seat available at one of the “twosie” tables.  The box office person told me she was waiving the fee that B&B usually charges single diners, so that was nice, too.

A woman named Chris was my server this time.  She and her assistants were just right: neither overly fussy nor inattentive.  When I told her that I had just popped in on a whim, she told me I had picked a great show for it.   It’s always enjoyable to hear staff rave sincerely about a show that you are about to see.

I am going to rave about “Peter Pan,” too, but first I have to say that watching it as an adult was an odd experience.

For one thing, I felt very uncomfortable during the Tiger Lilly scenes, even though I admired the dancing. (Choreography by Ron Morgan.)  I tried to imagine bringing any of my Native American storytelling colleagues to this show, or any of the Miami Indians that live here in Indiana, or any of their children…and I couldn’t do it.  “Ugga wugga wigwam?”  Please.

For another thing, whoo-whee! this really is a guy’s fantasy: three different women want him (Peter, I mean) and he does not have to take responsibility for anything.  I laughed out loud more than once at lines that were not intended to be funny.  “Sure, Wendy, I’ll be the father, as long as it isn’t real.”

But I can forgive a lot in a person who is willing to fly through the night to hear stories, and who values storytelling as much as pockets.  I agree with Peter (and with the original playwright, James M. Barrie) that both are essential.

In fact, on Sunday night when Peter invited Wendy to fly back with him to Neverland to be mother to him and the Lost Boys, I was startled to find myself crying.  Suddenly and sharply, I missed my own mother.

Maybe we all need someone to tell us stories and sew us pockets and sing to us, all our lives.  Surely that is part of the reason I go to the theatre every weekend, even though I have gotten pretty good at taking care of myself the rest of the time.

Maybe, too, we all need the comfort and structure of a storied life (Wendy) plus the thrill of a “brotherly” relationship with an exotic Other (Tiger Lilly) plus someone in our corner who is human enough to be jealous but fey enough to drink the poison that was meant for us, and who depends on our belief for her (His?) very existence (Tinkerbell.)  Maybe “Peter Pan” is not just some immature guy’s fantasy but everyone’s.

Wasn’t there a best-selling psychology book about this once upon a time? 

Well, whether you want to unpack the messages in “Peter Pan” or not, Beef & Boards’ production of it is magical.

The flying is very exciting.   It must be nerve-wracking for both the actors and the people behind the scenes pulling on the wires, but they all make it look easy and fun.  Part of the excitement, actually, comes from noticing when the black-clothed crew person sneaks on stage while the audience is busy getting settled after the meal.  The wires come down with weights attached to the ends so that he can find them easily in the dark and attach them to the shutters at the back of the bedroom set, ready to be attached to the actors later, again while the audience is looking the other way.  Seeing the wires, knowing that the danger of bonked heads or falls is real, is as thrilling as making believe that the people are flying on the power of their own happy thoughts.  According to an article that was available on the B&B website, the fly director, Troy Trinkle, went to several seminars to learn how to make actors fly safely and artistically.  He succeeds admirably in this show.

The music is another treat.   Everyone’s voices sound beautiful, and the orchestra is energetic and fun to listen to, but not overpowering.  It consists of Debbie Myers (conductor/keyboard), Ernie Coleson (woodwinds), David Coleson (trumpet), Tim Kelly (percussion), and Kristy Templet (keyboard/synth.)

Tiana Checchia is completely boyish and lovable as Peter Pan.  Her/his delight in regaining his shadow is infectious.  Hillary Smith as Wendy conveys just the right delicate mixture of matronly satisfaction and wistfulness that a girl who is on the verge of womanhood has when she enjoys playing mother but she’s wondering if motherhood is all there is to being a woman.  Their energy together as they trade “kisses” and serve as make-believe parents to the Lost Boys makes perfect sense.

Once I let go of expecting Tiger Lilly and her all-female Indian tribe to be anything like real Native Americans, I enjoyed Melissa Schott’s innocently sexy portrayal of her.  The other Indian maidens – Mallory Davis, McKenzie Davis, Julia Harkey, and Brittany Snyder – are graceful and enticing, too. 

McKenzie Davis doubles as Nana, the huge dog who serves as the Darling children’s nanny.   Her “conversations” with the Darling family are hilarious.  Mallory Davis doubles as the Crocodile.  I couldn’t see her/it very well, but judging from the laughter from the rest of the audience when she chomped on Captain Hook, hers is an effective portrayal, too.

The Lost Boys – Wesley Corey, Adam Edgington, Devin Feltman, Noah Huber, Aaron Huey, Wesley Miller, David Michael Owens, and J. T. Wood – are completely endearing as they tumble and run all over the stage.  Wendy’s two brothers, Michael (Chayton Davidson) and John (Austin Davidson), fit right in with the Boys in Neverland.   They are also adorable on their own, either singing in harmony with their gentle mother, Mrs. Darling (Jill Kelly), or soaring overhead with Wendy and Peter.

But the pirates!  Oh, my goodness, I loved their antics best of all, including their “Mission Impossible”-like theme song.

Jeff Stockberger as the rascally Captain Hook is every bit as goofy-funny as I had expected him to be.    I am laughing again, remembering his physical rewind back up the chimney after poisoning Peter’s drink.  He manages it upside-down in a below-the-shoulders pirate wig, no less!   He is funny in a different, stodgier, way as Mr. Darling, refusing to take his medicine.

Jon Lambert makes a hilariously pitiful Smee.  The other pirates – Michael Davis as Mullins, Doug King as Starkey, Peter Scharbrough as Jukes, and Nathanael Welch as Noodler – are also a hoot.  They dance everything from the tango to the tarantula – I mean, tarantella – with Hook.

Their pirate ship is pretty cool, too.  (Scenic and lighting design by Michael Layton.)

The original production of this piece was directed and staged by Jerome Robbins.  The music is by Mark Charlap and the lyrics are by Carolyn Leigh, with additional music by Jule Styne and additional lyrics by Betty Comden & Adolph Green.  The music is based on the play by James M. Barrie. 

A note in the program says that James Barrie left the copyright of “Peter Pan” to the Hospital for Sick Children at Great Ormond Street in London “and thousands of children have benefitted from his gift in the years since his death.  The producers are proud and happy that everyone who has bought a ticket for today’s performance is helping a sick child get well.”  Reading this made me feel glad, too.

Beef & Boards’ production was directed by Eddie Curry and choreographed by Ron Morgan, with technical direction by Bill Mollencupp and musical direction by Debbie Myers.  The stage manager is Ed Stockman.  Daniel Hesselbrock designed the sound.

And Brian Horton designed the wonderful costumes.  I loved all of them – from Nana’s huggable, shaggy dog suit to Mrs. Darling’s elegant Victorian (Edwardian?) gown to Hook’s rich pirate silks.

In the ladies’ room after the show, I tried not to stare at a very pretty little girl who was wearing a frilly dress and a pearl necklace.  After she finished washing her hands (she could barely reach the sink!) she went over to another little girl that she didn’t know, but who was also wearing a frilly dress and a bejeweled headband.  The first little girl said, “Wasn’t it a lovely show?  I’m glad I came, aren’t you?”

The second little girl hid her face in her mother’s skirt, but I knew that she wanted to say “yes!”

Me, too.

“Peter Pan” continues at Beef & Boards through a lunchtime show on Sunday, June 29.   There are several shows during the week as well as on the weekend.  Even though I went on a whim, it is much better to make a reservation.  Please call the box office at 317-872-9664.  For “Peter Pan,” there is a special discount of $10 off tickets for ages 3-15.

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

3 thoughts on “Theatre Review: “Peter Pan” at Beef & Boards”

  1. Thank you SO much for writing this review. I saw this play on the day after you wrote this review, June 22nd. This has to be my favorite play of all time!

  2. That must have been so cute watching that little girl starting conversation with the other one. I could just picture my daughter doing that.

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