J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan has been brought to stage and screen many, many times since his debut back in 1902. First Stage presents a cleverly concise staging of the character’s origin late this season with Tinker Bell--a retelling of the classic story from the perspective of the very popular fairy who was the boy’s closest companion. It’s a magical show that contrasts the little fairy’s friendship with Peter Pan against the friendship between the villain Captain Hook and his bosun Mr. Smee. The central drama is brought to life amidst a rich visual reality of set, costuming and lights. Seasoned Director Jeff Frank puts together all of the right elements to develop a fantasy that holds a very compelling emotional reality without compromising the magic of Neverland.
The title role is played by a couple of different student actresses in rotating casts. Chantae Miller of the “Adventure Cast” crafts a sophisticated portrayal of a fairy struggling with the concept of friendship at the possibility of losing a friend. The complexity of a flawed, little fairy is handled quite well by Miller in a performance that serves as a very solid emotional center. Student actress Luca Batory plays Peter in the same cast. Batory guides Peter from a timid, restless boy at his first meeting with Tinker Bell through to confident and...equally restless leader of Lost Boys in a fantastic world. The subtle and not-so-subtle changes within the personality of Peter aren’t lost to Batory, who puts in a performance that deftly matches Miller’s.
Hook and Smee are played throughout the run by a couple of adult actors. Chris Klopatek is a nice-guy villain in the role of Mr. Smee. There’s a working-class wisdom about the character who really cares about Hook and manages a subtle equality with the menacing pirate in a refreshingly complex portrayal for kids’ fantasy.
Ryan Schabach plays one of kid’s literature’s greatest villains with a whimsical villainy. The script keeps the character from ever drifting too far in the direction of frightening menace that the character might approach. Schabach finds a place somewhere between flawed humanity and bullying brashness. Younger kids won’t get nightmares. Older kids won’t find him a silly clown. Schabach navigates a nice middle ground for Hook.
The world of Tinker Bell finds a nice place between peril and friendship in nearly every production element. Fight Choreographer Christopher Elst has composed a briskly-paced swashbuckling action for the show. Elst’s work can come across bracingly vivid. Here he’s slowed things down here. Little audience members won’t be frightened. A stage filled with combat action could feel overwhelming. Elst manages an almost enchanting rhythm to the action that never overpowers. Scenic Designer Sarah-Hunt Frank assembles a multi-platformed set with lots of little elements that can be moved around for a variety of different effects throughout the production. Everything is anchored in a nautical feel with ropes and masts and such. Lighting Designer Jason Fassl paints the set with the soft, magical glow of many fairy lights in a range of appealingly enchanting colors. In addition to scenic and lighting effects, a menagerie of little puppets add to the action including a charming alligator and a couple of adorable, little ducks.
First Stage’s production of Tinker Bell runs through June 2nd at the Todd Wehr Theatre at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. For ticket reservations and more, visit First Stage online.