FLY, the new musical adaption of J.M. Barrie’s tale of Peter Pan brings a swashbuckling, gravity-defying adventure to the stage of the La Jolla Playhouse. Full of laughter and a touch of melancholy the show explores imagination, the power of choice, and the unknown adventure called growing up.
As it usually goes, Wendy (Storm Lever) meets Peter Pan (Lincoln Clauss) when he tumbles into her room looking for his lost shadow. He’s so intrigued by this girl and her scarf that he thinks is her shadow he invites her to journey to Neverland with him. Tink (Isabelle McCalla) is there to provide the wisdom that to fly one must learn to forget, “Memories are heavy. They weigh you down.“
So off to the second star to the right they fly, quite literally, as they soar on cords high above the stage in movements choreographed by aerial designer Pichón Baldinu.
Neverland is ruled from the water by the fearsome crocodile (Liisi LaFontaine) and watched over by a mermaid moon in the sky. The set by Anna Louizos is an artistic bamboo forest that nimbly transitions from hideout to lagoon, and slides away to reveal a pirate ship. Gorgeous lighting by Howell Binkley also adds to Neverland’s magical atmosphere.
Here Wendy meets the Lost Boys, who fill her in on the island dynamics and on those dastardly grown-up pirates led by Captain Hook (Eric Anderson). Undaunted and looking for adventure Wendy once again takes to the sky with Peter.
As in most literature, nothing good happens when you make a fairy angry, so when Peter blows off Tink in favor of Wendy, actions are set in motion that will impact everyone on the island.
Led by Storm Lever, whose powerful vocals match her dynamic and confident Wendy, the cast is incredibly talented and fun to watch. Clauss as Peter has the right amount of cocky arrogance and smooth vocals to explain why so many willingly follow on an adventure. McCalla as Tink is fantastic as the feisty sprite- especially as she soars through the air. All three also sing while flying which is even more impressive.
Anderson as Hook is full of the best kind of comedic energy and self-absorbed melodrama as he battles Peter, and then slowly reveals a more vulnerable nature beneath that flamboyant exterior.
The pirate crew and the lost boys all bring a fun, comedic, and zany zeal first as rivals and then as a more powerful and determined group together in the second act song “Come on This Ship” that left the audience cheering.
The percussive and rhythmic music of the show is driven by the drums and sets the feeling for the island; animated, fierce, and tribal. “Howl at the Moon”, and “I Miss My Hand” are standouts for the pirates, while “Lost and Found” is a lovely Wendy moment by Lever.
LaFontaine brings ferocious vocals and a deliberate, patient predator vibe to the croc that has all the time in the world, even if these lost children do not.
The talented ensemble of dancers perform the choreography and also act as visible yet invisible stagehands (à la Japanese Kabuki kuroko) moving set pieces, hooking up flight lines, and keeping the island moving in more ways than one.
Like Neverland though, the dazzle and the spectacle of FLY can’t fully distract from a lack of depth in the plot, and the fearless female energy seems to fizzle.
It’s easy to claim the new focus of the show is on Wendy, “the original lost girl.” The show does this by removing almost everyone else, Wendy’s brothers Michael and John, the island Indians, mermaids, and even Wendy’s mother, from the narrative. (I guess the only good fairytale mom is a dead fairytale mom?)
The crocodile is compelling (more background on this croc’s origins in Neverland would be interesting) but is also a very female personification forcing the boys to grow up against their will when caught; villainous actions to be sure.
The ensemble of clever female dancers is faceless and nameless as the living island that provides a home for these clueless males to frolic upon. Surely, the island has other goals than to just help the male characters take enough responsibility to stay alive.
Even a scene where Tink and Wendy become friends is only lightly touched upon before moving on to other things. It would have been great to see these two expand on that moment as female friends in a world that has only ever seen male friendships.
FLY may not cover any new ground from the beloved children’s tale, but it does provide an entertaining reminder to find the joy in life, have adventures with your friends, and that the worry and the wonder that is called growing up is a wonderful adventure of its own.
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