Playwright: book, music & lyrics
by Marc Robin
At: Chicago Shakespeare Theatre at Navy Pier, 800 W. Grand Ave.
Phone: (312) 595-5600; $18
Runs through: Aug. 15
Somewhere at the intersection of the Edwardian coming-of-age fable, the gender-bending Broadway spectacle, the dazzling animated feature and the darkly Freudian allegory stands Marc Robin's account of the boy who rules the land of Eternal Innocence. And if this locates the familiar fantasy squarely in the Middle Of The Road, its placement thereat comes as more relief than disappointment to our jaded sensibilities.
No children's tale can hope to escape uncolored by its adult author's experiences, but Robin keeps his focus on his audience, not himself, and certainly not on hazy recollections of cognitive levels in idealized childhood. Fairy wings might be trimmed with LEDs, but their owner's shoes flash with twinkling sneaker-lights. Nana, the faithful dog—a shaggy puppet inhabited by Joey Gyondla—is allowed to lift her leg by way of greeting us. Peter is played by Matt Raftery with plenty of scruffy adolescent swagger (not unlike our own national teenage-hero, Huckleberry Finn), Cristen Page's Wendy is dismayed at being told by her father that she must move out of the nursery and grow up, and both her brothers, as portrayed by Chris Herzberger and Zachary Gray, smart and resourceful lads.
Matching the show's running time to youthful attention-spans dictates that musical interludes be somewhat abbreviated, but Alaric Jans'. score is liberally sprinkled with pop-riffs—especially 'Forever Young' (a sentiment certain to appeal to baby-boom parents) and the inspirational 'Moving On'—to encourage audience clap-alongs. Casting seasoned song-and-dance men Don Forston and Curt Dale Clark as pirates allows Timothy Gregory's Captain Hook to order up a soft-shoe and some fun-with-fermatas. And while nothing surpasses the spectacle of Peter's soaring through the air to perch on the auditorium balcony-rail, fight director David Woolley crafts them some intriguing duels pitting dagger against carpal prosthesis.
Youngsters attending the opening performance eagerly joined in the action, pointing the way for absent-minded characters and applauding wildly to restore the fallen Tinkerbell. But the most enthusiastic response went to the sinister crocodile (rendered more mysterious by the absence of its actor's name in the playbill), who receives several triple-cheer ovations in the course of the show.