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 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. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for the week of Aug. 21-27


    Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Watch the team practice for free at Bucs Training Camp on Tuesday-Thursday at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, where you'll also find the crew from HBO's Hard Knocks, the reality show featuring our team. Saturday, the team takes on the Cleveland Browns in a preseason game at …

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin (22) participates in practice during training camp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Friday, Aug. 4, 2017.
  2. Comedy legend Jerry Lewis dead at 91


    LOS ANGELES — Jerry Lewis, the manic, rubber-faced showman who jumped and hollered to fame in a lucrative partnership with Dean Martin, settled down to become a self-conscious screen auteur and found an even greater following as the tireless, teary host of the annual muscular dystrophy telethons, has died. He was …

    In this Sept. 2, 1990, file photo, entertainer Jerry Lewis makes his opening remarks at the 25th Anniversary of the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon fundraiser in Los Angeles. Lewis, the comedian whose fundraising telethons became as famous as his hit movies, has died according to his publicist. [Associated Press]
  3. If you miss out on Retro Futura tour, you'll be needing a little 'Tenderness'


    Closing out Retro Futura Week is a little bit of a cheat. We started the week with the English Beat and we end it with an offshoot of the Beat, the band General Public and their hit …

  4. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Aug. 20


    The Art of the Brick: An elaborate display of more than 100 pieces of Lego artwork including the life sized sculpture of a man ripping open his chest, a 20-foot-long T. rex skeleton, a giant skull and replicas of famous works including Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night and Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona …

    Eliana Goldberg, 5, of Wesley Chapel looks at a Lego sculpture called "Everlasting" at The Art of the Brick exhibit, which opened Friday in Tampa and runs through Sept. 4. [CHARLIE KAIJO   |   Times]
  5. Lightning owner Jeff Vinik backs film company pursuing global blockbusters


    TAMPA — Jeff Vinik's latest investment might be coming to a theater near you.

    Jeff Vinik, Tampa Bay Lightning owner, invested in a new movie company looking to appeal to a global audience. | [Times file photo]