CENTERVILLE — First Peter Pan gives instructions to Wendy, Michael and John: “You just think lovely, wonderful thoughts, and up you’ll go.”
“Oh, how lovely to fly!” Wendy exclaims.
The Boy Who Won’t Grow Up then tells the children, “I’ll teach you how to jump on the wind’s back, and then away we go! First, I must blow the fairy dust on you.”
At the CenterPoint Legacy Theatre staging of the 1954 Broadway musical, will Fred Lee and Colton Ward, the actors playing Peter, take flight on their way to Neverland?
“Peter definitely flies,” said Jim Christian, the show’s director. “And he’s not the only one. It’s hard to prevent the visceral reaction that we all have when we watch another human being defy gravity. Whether it’s a gymnast, an astronaut or an illusionist, there is something inexplicably exhilarating when someone flies. I think our audience is in for a genuine thrill.”
The original production starred Broadway legend Mary Martin as Peter and Australian actor Cyril Ritchard as Captain Hook, and both won best performance Tony Awards for their roles. “Peter Pan” holds the distinction of being the first full-length Broadway show to be nationally broadcast on TV, and the live taping attracted a then-record audience of 65 million viewers.
The number of times “Peter Pan” was seen on TV in those early years of broadcasting is also special. Following its first telecast in March 1955, the musical was restaged and a new version broadcast in 1956. There was also a 1960 production recorded on film, and that version was rebroadcast four times between 1963 and 1989. In 1990, it began to be shown regularly on the Disney Channel.
“This musical has always fascinated me from the first time I saw one of the broadcasts,” Christian said. “The songs, the characters and the story all intrigued me, but the biggest thing was the flying. If I could have a superpower, it would be the ability to fly.”
The direction the production will take will consider “Peter Pan” as theater both for young audiences and for adults, including those who have had the misfortune of growing up.
“For the older generation, I would like them to remember what a special place this timeless story holds in their hearts,” Christian said. “I also want them to have the opportunity to share it with their children, grandchildren and friends. For the younger generation, I want them to feel the same joy and wonder I felt when I first experienced this show. It’s the perfect combination of adventure, magic and heart.”
The Walt Disney Co. released its beloved animated fantasy-adventure feature with a separate script and songs unique to that retelling of J.M. Barrie’s 1904 play, “Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up.”
“The Disney feature holds the same level of nostalgia for me as the stage musical,” said Christian, who is a Disney enthusiast. “I think that my fascination with the Peter Pan attraction at Disneyland has reinforced my passion for this story.”
What can also be intriguing is the “ultimate escape from reality” the tale of Peter Pan offers.
“We all have our ways of finding our happy places — and the Peter Pan story is definitely one of mine,” Christian said. “The animated feature has the limitless freedom of the artist’s brush, and the only limits are the animator’s imagination. But with the live version, it’s the combined imaginations of the artists and the audience that create the magic.”
If you go ...
What: “Peter Pan”
Where: CenterPoint Legacy Theatre, 525 N. 400 West, Centerville
When: Aug. 11-Sept. 6
How much: $17-$22, with group rates available
Phone: 801-298-1302Comment on this story
Theater preview: ‘Peter Pan’ continues to fly young and old audiences to Neverland
The 1960 broadcast of "Peter Pan," starring Mary Martin.