If you haven’t seen “Peter Pan” in Peery’s Egyptian Theater, you haven’t really seen “Peter Pan.”
This week, Ogden Musical Theatre is bringing to town the Broadway musical about a flying boy who refuses to grow up. And producers are touting the opportunity to see Peter and the Darling children flying beneath the atmospheric ceiling of the historic Egyptian Theater, with its twinkling stars in a painted night sky.
This particular production of “Peter Pan” is being directed by Jim Christian, Mr. Musical Theater in the State of Utah himself. OMT organizers approached the longtime Weber State University professor last year about directing one of the company’s productions, offering him the opportunity to choose his own musical.
“When we approached Jim to see if he would consider directing a show for us, he said ‘I always wanted to do ‘Peter Pan’ in that theater,’” recalls Kassi Bybee, executive producer of OMT. “The venue has such a beautiful atmospheric ceiling with a night sky already created on it. And Jim said, ‘To fly Peter Pan in that theater would be nothing short of magical.’”
The musical opens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 25, and continues various days through Aug. 10 at Peery’s Egyptian Theater, 2415 Washington Blvd. Tickets are $15 to $20, available at www.egyptiantheaterogden.com or 801-689-8700.
Based on the J.M. Barrie classic tale, “Peter Pan” tells the story of Peter and his fairy sidekick Tinkerbell, who visit the nursery of the Darling children and take them on an adventure that features a ticking crocodile, a jungle tribe, and a band of hapless pirates led by Captain Hook. It features a score by Morris “Moose” Charlap and Jule Styne, with lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
Songs include “I’m Flying,” “I’ve Gotta Crow,” “I Won’t Grow Up” and “Never Never Land.” The Tony Award-winning musical has enchanted audiences for 60 years.
“It definitely is a different version of ‘Peter Pan’ than what many people are used to,” Bybee said. “If you go in expecting ‘Hook’ or the Disney cartoon, you should know it’s going to be different.”
For Christian, this will be his sixth time directing “Peter Pan.” He says there’s a reason it’s such a timeless, popular story.
“First off, you get all of the magic you’ve come to expect from the story, plus flying people and a classic score that a lot of people know,” Christian said. “And you’ve got pirates — everybody loves a good pirate — and Lost Boys and Tiger Lily’s tribe. It’s a beautiful set, lighting, props, and a fantastic cast. It’s going to be a ‘Peter Pan’ to fulfill everyone’s expectations.”
Keeping with tradition in musical theater, OMT has cast a woman in the title role — local actor Mickey Larson — who played Annie Oakley in last summer’s OMT production of “Annie Get Your Gun.”
Bybee said Larson starred in “Peter Pan” a decade ago up at Weber State University, “so it’s exciting for her to be able to fly again.”
Also starring in the production are Addison Welch as Captain Hook, and Jessica Lewis as Wendy Darling.
Bybee said the production involves people from Morgan to Davis counties, and from Kaysville to Brigham City on the north.
“We’ve got a very strong cast,” Bybee said. “We have such a great opportunity to have such talented people performing with Ogden Musical Theatre, and that’s directly related to the caliber of actors and production members who come out of our universities here.”
Christian admits the show isn’t without its technical issues.
“It’s always a technical — I don’t want to say nightmare, because it’s not a nightmare. But it is a technical challenge,” Christian said. “We have a full nursery set on stage, and right in the middle of a musical number that all has to go away and everybody starts to fly.”
Ah, the flying.
A big part of the magic of the show lies in the flying that Peter and the Darling children do, courtesy of rigging and harnesses by Kentucky-based ZFX Flying Effects. Both Christian and Bybee say they aren’t worried about the flying part of the show.
“‘Peter Pan’ is their bread and butter,” Christian said of ZFX. “They have dozens of productions going across the country at any one time.”
There are those who aren’t quite so confident.
“My job is just to be standing on the sidelines with the actors and whispering, ‘It’s so fun,’” said Christian, who’s flown with ZFX before and concedes there was a little fear of flying among the cast. “The one who is most scared is our Wendy. ... She’s nervous.”
Christian said a few changes have been made to the original 1954 Broadway musical, to remove some of the offensive Native American stereotypes.
“We don’t refer to Indians,” Christian said. “They’re referred to as Tiger Lilly’s tribe, as warriors — but ‘redskins’ and ‘Indians’ is gone.”
“Peter Pan” is only half of the heavy lifting Christian is doing for Ogden Musical Theatre this season. This coming holiday season he’ll also be directing “Five Carols for Christmas,” an original musical he wrote.
Next year, OMT will offer three productions. In February, it will present a concert version of a yet-to-be-named Tony Award-winning Broadway musical. The summer offering will be Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods.” And then, in an effort to develop a holiday tradition, “Five Carols for Christmas” will again be staged — this time with a new director.
But right now, OMT’s focus is on “Peter Pan.” Christian talked about what it was that he thinks makes the musical timeless.
“I think it’s a combination of never growing up, being able to enjoy childhood and adventure and magic forever,” he said. “And the fact that magic is involved, and people are excited about that — whether it’s Harry Potter or David Copperfield — it has a supernatural bent to it.”
Christian also believes that each new generation discovers the story anew.
“I have a 3-year-old grandson who watches the Disney animated version and flies his Peter and Darling children action figures around the house,” he said. “This is a story that can be shared across generations.”
And with “Peter Pan” flying beneath the Egyptian’s night sky, Christian believes there isn’t a better time to rediscover the beloved classic.
“I think this production, in this space — because of the environmental sky and the beautiful old-school nature of the Egyptian — this may be a once in a lifetime opportunity to see it in this kind of venue,” he said. “If you haven’t experienced ‘Peter Pan’ with all the generations of your family, this is the time.”