Make us your home page

Review: Freefall's 'Peter Pan' is a lovely vehicle for a timeless story

Britt Michael Gordon, Cameron Kubly, Gabriella Guinta, Robert Teasdale, Taylor Simmons (on floor) star in Freefall Theatre's Peter Pan. Photo by Steven Le, Thee Photo Ninja.

Britt Michael Gordon, Cameron Kubly, Gabriella Guinta, Robert Teasdale, Taylor Simmons (on floor) star in Freefall Theatre's Peter Pan. Photo by Steven Le, Thee Photo Ninja.

ST. PETERSBURG — There's a writing axiom students of the craft hear a lot, essentially telling them to "write so that an 8-year-old kid could understand it."

Children have good truth detectors. Some fiction writers run their ideas by kids before they get too invested in a plot. Fail to clear that bar and you might want to take another look.

British playwright J.M. Barrie took that principle a step further. The British playwright told his stories to children, then asked them to repeat back what they heard.

His play, Peter Pan, debuted in 1904. It's been adapted as a 1953 stage musical, and in two subsequent versions on NBC, most recently in 2014. None of those efforts match the purity of intent in Freefall Theatre's Peter Pan, a smarter, smaller play perfect for Freefall's intimate space.

The show is running in repertory with its prequel written a century later. Peter Pan and Peter and the Starcatcher, a crowd favorite last year, run on alternating dates through January with most of the same cast. While both have elements in them to recommend, Peter Pan is the more substantial of the two, an assessment with which Starcatcher's authors would happily agree. This production, directed by Eric Davis, Freefall artistic director, stays true to the genius of the script, albeit with surprises and the occasional wink to adult audiences.

Taylor Simmons plays Peter with the requisite balance of boyish and adult sensibilities, who fights fearlessly yet refuses to come of age. Consequently he cannot have a mature love relationship with Wendy (ably played by Gabriella Guinta), or settle into domestic life. Though Peter Pan and Starcatcher each start with simple dilemmas, they also uncover other worlds populated by fantastic creatures, not all of them human. So these are very much ensemble productions replete with fine actors.

Clinton Harris adds a layer of ferocity as Lean Wolf, one the natives protecting the "lost boys" from the pirates; and John Mark Jernigan pulls duty in both plays as the boatswain Smee, in this case serving Captain Hook. Chris Crawford supplies a big chunk of the show's eloquence and heart, first as Mr. Darling and especially as Hook. And Susan Haldeman makes an admirable Nana, nursemaid for the Darling family, doubling as a ventriloquist for a dummy of a huge family dog.

The most stunning contributions to the show are the original songs by music director Michael Raabe. Marissa Toogood, as Mrs. Darling, sets the tone with a lullaby to put the kids to bed, about being "safe at home." That sets up dreamlike adventures to follow, the stomping skullduggery of pirates, swing-era harmony by mermaids in drag and much more.

Before Wednesday's show started, children in the crowd were invited to move to some empty seats available in the front row. A half-dozen scurried over, none of them taller than 4 feet. Their laughter could be heard throughout, often at unexpected times.

Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

.If you go

Peter Pan, Peter and the Starcatcher

Peter Pan and Peter and the Starcatcher run on alternating weekends through Jan. 29 at Freefall Theatre, 6099 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. $37 and up. (727) 498-5205.

Review: Freefall's 'Peter Pan' is a lovely vehicle for a timeless story 12/22/16 [Last modified: Thursday, December 22, 2016 5:29pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. As Faith Hill and Tim McGraw come to Tampa, here's why their love fascinates and endures

    Music & Concerts

    I couldn't tell you if any of this made it to air, though, because I didn't see it on TV. I was standing a few feet away, watching Hill and McGraw cuddle live.

    LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 14:  Faith Hill (L) and Tim McGraw perform onstage during the “Soul2Soul” World Tour at Staples Center on July 14, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
  2. From the food editor: Five things I'm enjoying in the food world right now


    Sometimes your notebook is scribbled with little thoughts here and there, things you come across in the food world and want to share but aren't sure how or when. Well, folks, I need to get some of this off my chest. Here is a somewhat random collection of culinary things I am really enjoying right now:

    Espresso Sea Salt Cookie Sandwiches with a cooked buttercream frosting, from St. Petersburg home bakery Wandering Whisk Bakeshop. Photo by Jennifer Jacobs.
  3. Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins: Yacht rock paradise at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday

    Music & Concerts

    Frosty wine coolers and a misty sunset sea breeze. White linen pants and a tilted captain's hat. Coconut milk and an awful lot of rum.

    Kenny Loggins performs during Little Kids Rock Benefit 2016 at Capitale on October 5, 2016 in New York City.
  4. New podcast: Songs for an '80s Halloween playlist


    It has to start with Thriller, right? No spooky song playlist from the '80s omits the Michael Jackson classic. Well, our list doesn't. (Though we do give Thriller its due.) Instead, this week's podcast aims for picking some more unusual tunes. (Okay, and a few obvious ones too.) 

  5. We asked Neil deGrasse Tyson to rate 'space things' like 'Star Wars' vs. 'Star Trek'


    Neil deGrasse Tyson is making a habit out of visiting Tampa.

    Neil deGrasse Tyson will speak at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts on Oct. 19. [Patrick Eccelsine/FOX]