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On Theater: 'Peter Pan' a soaring spectacle at OCPAC

October 14, 2010|By Tom Titus

Look, up in the sky. It's a bird. It's a plane. It's ... "Peter Pan."

Yes, the forever-young hero of J.M. Barrie's ever-popular children's story is back, and this time — with the help of some well-placed wires — he really flies. The spectacle, which had been billed to run through Nov. 21, has now been extended till Jan. 2, at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa.

The flying, while impressive, isn't the most eye-catching aspect of the visiting production from England's threesixtyº theater. As its name implies, the background is 360 degrees around the audience, altering with breathtaking abandon as Peter and the Darling kids wing their way to Neverland.

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This version of "Peter Pan" is mostly familiar, with a few new wrinkles in the current adaptation by Tanya Ronder. It's calculated to open young playgoers' eyes wide with its aerial and atmospheric splendor, while the actors on the ground zealously bring their characters over the proverbial top.

Director Ben Harrison and William Dudley — who designed the setting, costumes and 3-D production — have created a wondrous Neverland that begins where the vintage Disney animated movie, the underrated Steven Spielberg version ("Hook") and various other stage, screen and television productions left off. The circular stage smoothly transforms from a nursery to a wooded hideaway to a pirate ship, while the characters emerge from all directions, including up from below.

The title role of the boy sprite who never grew up is played with glorious gusto by Nate Fallows, who soars to new heights and meets his match in the form of Wendy, the eldest of the three Darling kids, saucily played by Abby Ford.

But for sheer show-stealing dominance, the show's true centerpiece is Jonathan Hyde as the treacherous Captain Hook (as well as the Darling's dad). Hyde brings a sinister sophistication to a role that invites — nay, encourages — egregious overplaying.

Antony Strachan charms as an audience-friendly pirate, the benevolent Smee. Heidi Buehler displays balletic grace as the Indian princess Tiger Lily. And Itxaso Moreno gives us a very different Tinker Bell, a surly sprite with the appearance and attitude of a street urchin.

The only aspect of the show that doesn't fully work is the concept of Nana, the Darlings' dog, as a puppet, presented Lion King-style with a human handler. An actor in canine costume would have better preserved the illusion.

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