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Second star to the right - MTYP’s Peter Pan takes flight!

By Judianne Jayme

Omar Benson, Fred Penner & Judianne Jaime. • Photos by Valen Vergara
Omar Benson with parents Contessa & Raymond Benson

You can fly, you can fly, you can fly!

Humans have always been fascinated by the idea of flight. The Manitoba Theatre for Young People (MTYP) let its audience members’ imaginations soar with their live production of Peter Pan.

This experience was a first for me as an official reviewer with my media pass in hand. Accustomed to concerts, my photographer and I were treated to the live theatre experience. For those who have never been to the MTYP, the stage is in the centre, with the seats raised around it. This open 360-degree experience makes for an interactive and intimate feel for the audience. We were seated in the appropriately named “Lagoon” section, referring to the different parts of Neverland, where time ceases to exist.

Playwright Gail Bowen has taken a classic, beloved children’s fairy tale and transformed it into a play that becomes meaningful and entertaining to both a child and an adult. The creative and production teams worked together to produce a magical experience. It was certainly an eye-opening experience for my colleague and me to witness Peter Pan from the perspective of those who have essentially left Neverland and have grown up.

The play begins with a storytelling traveler, played by a man very familiar to MTYP audiences, Harry Nelken. He reminisces about the days of his youth as a former “Lost Boy,” with a warning for the audience: once you leave Neverland and grow up, the doors close for you and you can never return.

A question was placed in the script that explores an idea that I, along with others who I have shared the story with, have never really considered: why are there only lost boys, and not lost girls? The actors explain that young girls are almost always more willing to grow up. The talented Mallory James as Wendy executed this idea brilliantly throughout the play. We see how Wendy struggles between having fun and enjoying her youth versus the gnawing inside her for fairness, maturity, responsibility, and wisdom – all virtues that come with experience and age. Wendy essentially begins her journey of growing up while in Neverland with the Lost Boys.

A critique often heard in live theatre productions of Peter Pan is the awkwardness of having adults play roles made for children. I applaud MTYP for an incredible job of casting for this particular show. Dora Award winner, Colin Doyle, had the boundless energy that did justice to the forever-youthful Peter Pan. The same goes for the performances of Mallory James and Tristan Carlucci, the curious and playful John Darling. The trio really captured the flying experience when they were harnessed onto lever-like machines that gracefully allowed them to soar and do flips mid-air, above the heads of their audiences, in unison, with the help of their stage crew.

An interesting idea that has been present in certain film adaptations and other theatre productions is the connection between George Darling (the father) and Captain Hook, both working against the “Lost Boys” and the idea of being carefree forever. Winnipeg legend Fred Penner did an outstanding job in both roles, even pulling up a brave young audience member to participate in a scene, completing a four-part harmony!

As someone who works with children daily, I am always in awe of young talent. In the previous edition, I featured Omar Benson who plays both a Lost Boy and Peter Pan’s shadow. Omar, at 13, played one of the older Lost Boys who, like Wendy, understood the seriousness of his character’s decisions. Several of the young cast members had actually made their professional debut in this very production. These young actors and actresses did an incredible job of focusing on their characters and establishing stage presence. They really added the heart to the production. Their dedication to their craft is impressive at their young ages!

I will leave you with a quotation directly from J.M. Barrie’s original Peter Pan text: “To live will be an awfully big adventure.”

Thank you, again, to the Benson family and MTYP for giving us the opportunity to experience and review this production of Peter Pan!

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