Peter Pan at Soulpepper is a wonderfully imaginative production perfect for the entire family
Fiona Sauder (middle) as Peter Pan flying to Neverland with nothing but the aid of a sheet.
Someone over at Soulpepper is paying attention, and thank goodness for that. When they saw Bad Hats Theatre's Dora Award-winning production of Peter Pan, they made the move to add it to their annual Family Festival holiday lineup as a co-production alongside A Christmas Carol and other festival programming. And, it is fantastic.
With a set that consists of little more than a couple of trunks, a box and a piano, this energetic young company, all of whom perform multiple roles with ease, transforms the small theatre into a glorious tropical island with crocodiles and pirates using little more than the power of imagination. And what a wonderful lesson to learn for youngsters in the crowd.
The production, a musical, is adapted by Fiona Sauder and Reanne Spitzer, and was first performed in Port Perry back in 2015, followed by a string of brewery runs in 2016 and now at Soulpepper's Michael Young Theatre until Dec. 31.
Immediately upon entering the theatre, the audience is invited into the actors' world through song, dance and casual audience interaction. It's fun, but it also kick-starts the imagination in preparation for the show ahead. At the edge of the stage, a series of mats are available to young theatre-goers to get ringside seats. There were more than a dozen pint-sized theatre fans who took advantage during this production, all of whom sat in rapt attention throughout, so don't hesitate.
When the play begins in earnest, the stage is quickly transformed into a bedroom in Victorian London, England by sheer will and a blanket over a trunk. The shift to Neverland involves moving said trunk and utilizing a blanket with clouds. You get the idea.
The story itself is standard Peter Pan with a few clever asides and some lovely songs. It's a tale we all know well, and this is certainly a shortened version coming in at a cool 75 minutes, but all the important boxes are checked. We have Hook, Pan, Wendy, Tinkerbell and the gang. We also have a storyteller on stage narrating as they go, who also jumps into the action as Hook's right-hand man Mr. Smee.
The lost boys are also the pirates, donning red bandanas and a surly snarl to show their good pirate form when required, and some youthful exuberance as lost boys. They are joyous.
Every actor on the stage deserves credit for a very fine performance. That being said, Reanne Spitzer's performance as Tinkerbell was something to behold. Here, we have a single actor playing one of the most important roles in Peter Pan, essentially as a ball tossed around to various other characters as she speaks in the fairy style in the corner of the stage on a stool. The expression, the verve, is remarkable. She is fascinating, or the audience clearly adores her. She also plays Mrs. Darling, and one of the pirates, also hilarious and wonderful. Kudos.
In addition, hats off to the Matt Pilipiak as the narrator and the very flamboyant Mr. Smee and of course Fiona Sauder as Peter Pan, providing the audience with the production's best musical moments.
There are some minor quibbles with a song or two, although all performers have lovely voices, there were some minor issues but it did little to lessen the impact of such a wonderful work.
If any further criticism could be levelled, it might be that it ends too soon. It's rare that a family production allows for an exercise of the imagination such as this; it's like drinking a green detox juice after a night of binging on junk food and Netflix. And, it feels so good.