THE CLASSIC Broadway musical Peter Pan is set to light up the Town Hall Theatre ’s August programme and captivate Galway audiences in a new staging from Twin Productions.
JM Barrie’s magical story of Peter, “the boy who never grew up”, his friendship with Wendy and her siblings, his battles with the villainous Captain Hook, and his many adventures in Neverland has been entrancing young and old alike for more than a century, and its hold over audiences today remains as powerful as ever.
“Peter Pan has such wide appeal,” agrees director Sean Power. “It’s been done a number of times on film as well as in theatre down the years, especially in America. This version has been revived several times on Broadway and in the 1990s it had a number of big tours with the famous Olympic gymnast Cathy Rigby as Peter.
“The Peter Pan story is also kept alive these days through the likes of the Disney Channel and programmes like Jake and the Neverland Pirates. The show itself has wonderful music, the songs have beautiful melodies and a tune like ‘Never Smile at a Crocodile’ really appeals to kids. Also, the story’s theme of young people who don’t want to grow up, and this magic place Neverland, has an enduring appeal.”
There have been several musical adaptations of Peter Pan. The one being staged by Twin Productions premiered on Broadway in 1954, with a score by Morris ‘Moose’ Charlap and Jule Styne, with lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green. Featured songs include ‘I’m Flying’, ‘I’ve Gotta Crow’, ‘I Won’t Grow Up’, ‘Tender Shepherd’, and ‘Never Never Land.’
The production won Tony Awards for its stars Mary Martin, as Peter, and Cyril Ritchard as Captain Hook. The following year it was filmed by NBC for live television, drawing a then-record audience of 65 million. So successful was the telecast, that NBC did two further live broadcasts of the show in 1956 and 1960.
Peter Pan enjoyed successful revivals on Broadway in 1979, 1990 and 1998, confirming its abiding popularity as one of the best-loved family musicals.
“It’s a great show,” Sean Power declares. “That said, it’s not often taken on by companies on the amateur circuit largely because of the difficulty of staging Peter’s flying sequences. We are working with Brian Donaldson from High Performance Productions in London to have a flying system that will create the magic of Peter in flight.”
Another challenge is the variety of locations in which the action unfolds.
“The show starts in the Darling family household, in London, as the parents are heading out to a dress dance together,” says Sean. “The children then get immersed in the story of Peter Pan and he appears and duly whisks them off to Neverland where they get lost in the land of pirates, and Indians underground where the Lost Boys live. So there are some complex scenes there but we have good guys working with us both here and from London to come up with a good design for the show.”
A big family show
I ask Sean if it is tricky finding an audience in August, coming so soon after the Galway International Arts Festival and Race Week.
“This isn’t our first time doing a summer production, in fact this is our eighth time doing an August show over the last 10 years, and our third in a row,” he replies. “The timing is actually quite good because we’re coming up to the ‘back to school’ period and there are also still tourists around. It has worked for us in the past - the only year it didn’t work was when there was a huge heatwave! Both Fergal McGrath, and Mike Diskin before him, at the Town Hall have encouraged us to put on a big family show at this time of year, it’s a bit like putting on the panto at Christmas.”
Power emphasises that Peter Pan will appeal equally to children and adults.
“Kids will absolutely enjoy it as much as grown-ups,” he declares. “There are great characters in the show, such as Cooky who is very funny. You also have the crocodile which is beautifully costumed, and then there is Nana the dog. It definitely has wide appeal, both for the adults, with the humour, and for the kids with the visuals as well as the great dance routines.”
Sean concludes our chat by listing the performers who take the principal roles in a production that features a cast of more than 60 and a nine-strong musical ensemble.
“Captain Hook is played by Patrick Byrne from Ballinasloe who was nominated recently in AIMS awards as best comedian for his work with Ballinasloe Musical Society and he brings a great comic touch to the part.
“Mr Darling is Carl O’Doherty, well known from the PMS and Galway Musical Society, who is a fine actor and he is also doubling up and playing Smee, Hook’s right-hand man.
“Mrs Darling is Caoimhe O’Donnellan who played Maria in The Sound of Music last year. Laura Ní Cheallaigh is Wendy, John Darling is Aoine Kennedy, Dylan Power plays Michael.
“Peter Pan is played by Deirdre Ní Chloscaí from Monaghan. This is her first time with us but she has previously featured with Dramsoc and GUMS in NUIG, she’s a beautiful singer and performer.”
Other credits for the production include Marcin Plaza (musical director ), Katie Upton (choreography ) and June Young (costume design ).
Peter Pan runs at the Town Hall Theatre from Wednesday August 13 to Sunday 17. The Wednesday to Saturday performances commence at 7pm while the Sunday show is at 6pm. There are also matinee performances on Saturday at 2.30pm, and Sunday at 2pm.
Tickets are €18/€16 and available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie