Thursday , August 07, 2014 - 4:28 PM
Fantastic childhood dreams come to life in the form of daring sword fights, a magical tree house fortress, and fairy dust that gives humans the ability to fly.
Director Jim Christian brings the beloved children’s tale, ‘Peter Pan,’ to CenterPoint Legacy Theatre, starting next week. This is his fifth time directing the musical that is one of his top picks.
“It is a show that I really love,” said Christian, Weber State University’s director of musical theater studies. “It is a timeless story about our inner child. It has a beautiful score and is a sentimental favorite.”
Christian believes the reason this story has remained so popular for more than a century is that it appeals to the child inside us all.
“There is a difference between growing old and growing up,” he said. “We all grow older and most of us grow up, but all of us have things from our childhoods that we cling to. We like to go back and visit locations or keep memorabilia that reminds us of early memories in our lives. Sometimes foods, like a root beer float or grandma’s chocolate chip cookies, even remind us of our childhoods. As we take on more responsibilities, we long for the days when we just wanted to play with our friends out in the neighborhood all night long.”
This tale transports audience members to a more carefree time of life.
“Everything in the show is playful,” Christian said. “Neverland is populated by pirates, Indians and Lost Boys. They are kind of in a constant game of hide and seek with each other.”
It isn’t just the story of playful Peter, who swears he will never grow up and causes all sorts of mischief. The set is also reminiscent of a childhood fantasy world.
“Neverland is quite the playground,” Christian said. “There is a hollow log that is a slippery slide and a tree that can be climbed. Underneath, there is a fireman pole. There are all kinds of wonderful tricks and a fanciful look to it all. All three worlds, Neverland, the nursery and the pirate ship, all have a really neat, storybook look.”
Directing the show can also be a playful experience. Early in the rehearsal process, Christian used a fun technique with the cast to help actors get into character.
“One night, we played hide and seek,” the director said. “After we did that, the cast wanted to do it over and over again. We had a treasure hunt one night, too. It is amazing how quickly that spirit reawakens in people when you give them the opportunity.”
Christian’s daughter, Jessica Merrill of Layton, choreographed the show to include playful frolicking, characters soaring through the air and pyrotechnics. This is the third show Christian and Merrill have worked on together at CenterPoint, with him as director and her as choreographer. Past productions were “Hairspray” and “South Pacific.”
Merrill attended Dixie State College on a dance scholarship, and currently works as a coach to Layton High School’s drill team.
The “Peter Pan” story begins with parents Mr. and Mrs. Darling visiting their three children in the nursery before heading out to an important business dinner. Mr. Darling, played by Chuck Gilmore, of Bountiful, and Dru Watts, of Salt Lake City, is a disciplinarian who is concerned about keeping up appearances.
The same cast members who play Mr. Darling also play Captain Hook, the villain of Neverland.
“Every good story has a villain in it, either someone we love to hate or a force we want conquered,” Christian said. “Captain Hook is treated with a great amount of comedy, but he also has a level of menace. He represents the same challenge as Mr. Darling when it comes to being young and playful.”
After the parents leave the children alone in the nursery, we meet a flying boy named Peter Pan, played in the double cast show by WSU student Coulton Ward, of Ogden, and Salt Lake City resident Fred Lee.
The three Darling children decide to fly away with Peter to his home in Neverland, where they have adventures and battle Captain Hook’s gang of pirates. The oldest of the Darling children is Wendy, played by WSU students Katie Jones, of Roy, and Lindsay Blackman, of Ogden. Wendy has an eye for Peter, but her interest is not returned in the way she wishes.
“They come at the relationship from two different perspectives because Wendy sees Peter as a romantic, adventurous figure and Peter looks at Wendy as a combination of playmate and mother,” Christian said. “Because he’s not growing up, he is not moving into that realm of exploring the male/female relationship like she is. There is a scene about a kiss and what a kiss means to each of them is completely different.”
Christian said differences each time he directs this musical come mainly from the unique qualities of the casts.
“When I directed it at Weber, they were all college students,” he said. “This time, all of the lost boys are young, ranging from age eight to fifteen. We’ve got real childhood in the show. There are also cast members in their 60s. There are people from all walks of life.”
Lori Rees, of North Ogden, played Peter Pan in an earlier production directed by Christian. This time, she plays the grown up Wendy at the end of the play and her son, Matt Rees, plays a Lost Boy.
“There is never enough joy in life,” Christian said. “It is always great for people to have an opportunity to share that, especially across generations. This is a show for all ages. Come with parents, children, grandparents, neighbors and friends and have a great time collectively. This is a chance to see ‘Peter Pan’ done with all the bells and whistles in a beautiful theater with a cast that really represents all the different types of characters in the show.”
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