Get hooked on Peter Pan

Tiger Lily, played by Katie Hudak, and the people of Neverland rejoice after Peter Pan, Scott Arnold, defeats the evil Captain Hook.   - Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times
Tiger Lily, played by Katie Hudak, and the people of Neverland rejoice after Peter Pan, Scott Arnold, defeats the evil Captain Hook.
— image credit: Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times

The little boy who refused to grow up, in J.M. Barrie’s imperishable “Peter Pan” is back, and bringing the unadulterated joy of little-boy-and-girldom to Whidbey Playhouse.

Pan spends his life in a never-ending childhood on Neverland, adventuring with the gang of Lost Boys and clanging swords with his furious rivals. Director Rusty Hendrix said the innocence of the character appealed to her in adulthood.

“I long to be a child again,” Hendrix wrote in the program. “But if I were, I could not do what I do — hold my grandsons, love deeply, create art, volunteer at a fantastic community theatre, help others... So the beautiful and almost tragic tale of Peter Pan and Wendy is that growing up is a necessity even while clinging to your innocence is what allows you to breathe.”

Hendrix first read Barrie’s novel as a child and said “like most 12-year-olds, I fell in love.” She and her sister, Diane Geragotelis, would jump off their dresser, dangling from a mini-blind cord to try to mimic flight.

Her musical adaption of “Peter Pan” is a traditional mixture of J.M. Barrie’s classic and the Broadway production. The play begins in the London nursery of Wendy, John and Peter, where three children are visited by Peter Pan. With the help of his tiny friend, the fairy Tinkerbell, Peter takes them on a magical flight to Neverland. This enchanted island is home to Peter, Tink, mermaids, the Lost Boys (Peter’s gang of rag-tag runaways), Tiger Lily and the evil Captain Hook who is as intent on defeating Peter Pan as he is escaping from the tick-tocking crocodile that once ate his hand.

Several of the director’s motifs are fun to watch for, such as the pirate etched above Peter’s bed, the teepee above Michael’s and the fairies on Wendy’s bed.

Foreshadowing continues when Allen Young, who plays both Captain Hook and the childrens’ father, holds a hook-like finger under his chin as Mr. Darling, for his “deep thought” moments.

Hook and Mr. Smee (Bob Hendrix) make their appearance in the third act, which is heightened by the pirate posse entering in the back of the theatre. “Yo-ho’s” and “Yarrrs,” along with other menacing pirate talk, blast the audience as the gang files down the aisles. They sing “To the Ship” as they growl and swing plastic swords at members in the front row.

Shortly, the villainous scene devolves into comedy as Hook demands the crew perform a tango.

“The best part of being the comedic relief is that we can mess up as much as we want... and we get to beat each other up,” Sarah Henderson, who plays Cecco the pirate, said.

Coupeville senior Scott Arnold prepared for his role as Peter Pan by watching every version of the movie on the market. His hold-nothing-back approach to Pan made him irresistible to watch, especially with the manic energy and acrobatics he carried off in “I’ve Got to Crow.”

“Playing Peter Pan is fun because he’s a totally different, youthful character,” Arnold said. “Compared to other characters I’ve played, he has his own category.”

The play continuously builds on its own excitement, with the flurry of actors (38 total, with 29 being children), and imaginative sets, that almost seem impossible for such a small stage.

A giant tree positioned on the left of the stage opens into a small house, decorated with colorful flowers. The pirate ship, which is affixed with canons and sails, is pulled apart by Act 3 before the final duel. Hendrix’s husband Bob did the carpentry.

While your eyes have trouble deciding what to focus on next, the story and the wholesome, lovely nature of it, pulls at your heart. As Peter Pan begged the audience to help resurrect Tinkerbell, little kids screamed “I believe in fairies!” and parents very neared a second childhood.

“Peter Pan” is a great family show, and there was no better evidence than the adorable 7-year-old sitting to my left, who practically danced herself out of the seat. Tickets are on sale now.

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