“To live is an awfully big adventure.” – J.M. Barrie, PETER PAN
In today’s buzzing, texting, Photoshopped world, it’s difficult to impress youth audiences. While a strong storyline matters most, it takes more effort to elicit a thrill in this tech-savvy bunch of little darlings. Can Neverland be found in the Threesixty Theatre’s PETER PAN 360 set amongst a 1,500-seat, 100-foot high tent? Could the magic of J.M. Barrie’s novel be reclaimed in the parking lot of the Houston Chronicle building at 4747 U.S. 59 and Highway 610?
Faithful to the original tale, the producing team of PETER PAN 360, led by Norton Herrick, stick to the original story first published in 1911. In a theatre-of-the-round setting, the play begins in the Darling family nursery.
The audience quickly catches a glimpse of adulthood through the father’s impatient nature and wants to be whisked away with Peter Pan when he arrives at the children’s window. A series of clever trap doors built into the stage serve as backstage and soon Peter is teaching the children to fly to the magical island of Neverland.
This proves the most memorable scene in the production, as Peter leads the children, Wendy, John and Michael, above the city of London, declaring, “Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning.” The cast flies down along the Thames River and under the Tower Bridge. The audience is swept along on an extended flight and interactive adventure to Neverland that no stage production has ever achieved.
While the cast flies through the spacious skies, young audience members caught their breath. All fidgeting ceased as their gazes focused on the magic floating across the tent. Slight smiles were plastered across their faces, and within moments, these 21st-century children were transfixed on the tent’s ceiling, enthralled with what would happen next. Neverland was indeed found.
Perhaps the kids were easily transported by the storyline because this whimsical production produced by Charlie Burnell and directed by Thom Southerland, merges 21st century technology into the timeless classic. As the Darlings experience the raucous fights between the charming Lost Boys and the blood thirsty pirates, observe the cantankerous Captain Hook and the dinosaur-like crocodile puppet, admire the aerial silk-climbing mermaids, and Tinker Bell’s extreme tantrums, each scene change is projected on the tent’s ceiling using the world’s first computer-generated imagery theatre system.
The audience is completely immersed in the underwater, jungle and endless blue skies with CGI projections, created by William Dudley. The choreography and aerial effects, created by Gypsy Snider, give the production a Cirque de Soleil quality.
Throughout the production, the audience rallies behind the boy who never grew up in his quest to defy time. But ultimately, when the Darling children return home to their bewildered, thankful parents, he knows that adulthood is inevitable. PETER PAN 360 reminds its young audience members that “the moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.”
Through October 4 at The Threesixty Theatre at 4747 Southwest Fwy, Houston, TX 77027
By Autumn Rhea Carpenter
Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel