If you’re ready for something new, the theatrical production of Peter Pan at the Orange County Performing Arts Center might just be the ticket. The performers fly high, there is a bit of camp, and a very misbehaving Tinkerbell steals the show.
A unique combination of live theater and film, this production, adapted from J M Barrie’s tale of the boy who never grows up, gives audiences the best of both worlds.
High tech and low tech combine to immerse the audience in the show. The production is in a large custom tent adjacent to Segerstrom Hall and is the world’s first 360-degree CGI theater set. The massive projection screens surround the audience and stage, giving a “theater in the round” feel. There is no bad seat in the house.
This performance of Peter Pan is definitely a bit more gritty than the Disney version. Tinkerbell wears a worn pink tutu and sports an attitude. The pirates are rougher, more violent and use stronger language than kids are used to. All together, though, it works and is entertaining for both kids and adults.
The actors have their parts down and are convincing and energetic in their roles. They have also mastered the skill of flying above the stage on wires, making what takes a lot of physical strength and balance look simple. Hanging upside down for periods of time while delivering your lines can’t be that easy.
The projection screens that surround the tent provide a realistic backdrop to the production. Actors and film mesh seamlessly as the characters fly through the London night to Neverland, bobbing and weaving past sculptures and buildings. The audience flies with them as the landscape rushes past on all sides, letting them feel part of the action.
Melding live action theater with film can be a challenge. Dana Perreault, US Technical Director for the production, says the lighting is a very complex part of the production. “We have to be able to light the stage, yet not take away from the images projected on the screens”, says Perreault. “We have to get very creative with the lighting, and use mirrors to bounce the light.”
Opposing the high tech screens and flowing aerial work is the low tech use of puppets and real puppeteers to play the part of the Nana, the Darling family’s canine nanny, and other animals including the famed Captain Hook-hungry crocodile. It takes a moment to get used to a visible person on stage controlling the puppets, but their movements are so natural that you eventually forget they are there.
The deceptively simple set is timed and programmed to transform quickly and smoothly between scenes. It takes an incredible amount of coordination for all the pieces to come together. At one point in the production the performers are lowered down from the ceiling, slip into their beds, then slide though their mattresses and down under the stage, with the beds then disappearing and the center island popping up onto the stage. The precision with which this is done is no less than remarkable.
If you are looking for a grand-scale Broadway production then Peter Pan might not be for you. But if you want to suspend reality for awhile, enjoy a bit of magic with a great cast, stunning projected images, and a few laughs to boot, then head over to the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa. Sometimes it’s important to just forget reality for awhile – and not be a grown up.
For more information on Peter Pan now playing in Orange County through Jan.2, 2011.