Everyone knows the story of Peter Pan. First brought to life by a 1904 play by J.M. Barrie and then novelized and, finally, made into a 1954 musical, the story of the flying boy who never grows up and his infiltration into the life of the Darling family is familiar to all. However, West Johnston High School’s production breathes a whole new and vibrant kind of life- much like Tinkerbell’s pixie dust itself- into this beloved tale.
The play opens, as it always does, right in the Darling family nursery. Mrs. Darling, skillfully portrayed by Peighton St. Peter, immediately stands out thanks to the young actress’ effective British accent and convincing adult demeanor. There’s also a show-stealing Nana, charmingly portrayed here by a furry, friendly-looking black dog who, in real life, is named Bubba.
Everything stops, however, when Samantha Brooke Dodson’s “Wendy” takes the stage. Boasting a polished stage presence and the air of a seasoned professional, Dodson makes for a beautiful and extremely likeable Wendy- the young Darling girl who will befriend Peter Pan and carry him in her heart eternally.
And speaking of Peter Pan himself, it’s actually a “her” in this case. Portrayed by Casey Wortham, this Peter Pan is every bit as cute and winsome as “he” needs to be. Wortham nails the fun “I Gotta Crow” number with folksy delivery, bolstered by engaging, arm-flapping choreography and accompanying lighting design.
Of course, there is no Peter Pan without his favorite pixie, Tinkerbell, portrayed here by an alluring Aidan Schweizer. The WJHS team adds in a unique touch by having their Tinkerbell perform via aerial silk. And, when she’s not “up in the sky” that way, she’s represented by twinkling green light effects, a nice and whimsical touch.
When it’s time for the Darling children to fly off to Neverland, the results prove impressively high-tech for a high-school production, and nothing beats Braden Kneeshaw’s believably childlike expressions as he portrays the youngest darling- Michael- and clutches his authentically vintage teddy bear as he flies. In fact, small touches like the bear and other appropriately-aged pieces add to the authenticity and detail that make this production so unique.
Fast, effective scene changes also add to the energy of the show and lead into a second act in magical Neverland, brought to life beautifully by impressive and creative sets, featuring lifelike trees, an impressively well-costumed villain in Carson Cain’s devilish Captain Hook, and very fun choreography, particularly with the Indian crew, made up of Nicole Barefoot's lovely "Tiger Lilly" and Michaela Altman, A’Nya Cox, Lanna Gimenez, Jada Greaves, Naiya Roberts, and Aidan Schweizer.
As the adventure of the second and third acts plays out, the action even extends beyond the stage, utilizing every square inch of the high school’s large auditorium. These later acts also feature one of the musical’s most impressive and largescale musical numbers- “Never Grow Up,” which is impressively managed and choreographed by Cheri Crabtree.
With Dodson as a surefire standout down to the final, sweetly-sad ending and perfect music throughout, this production seems to have a special light around it (and no- not just Tinkerbell). There’s an energy, a fun, and a true love of theatre and childlike wonder that infuses every second of the production and that makes it one well worth seeing. It’s truly Peter Pan like it’s never been done before.
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