Arts and Entertainment

Think happy thoughts at BPA's 'Peter Pan'

It is a moment anticipated in every telling of the tale, and it is ever so magical.

The light fades to an ethereal blue, centering on an Edwardian nursery. A stuffed crocodile rests on its side on the floor, and near a toy chest, beneath a fluffy bed, hides a sprightly shadow.

Suddenly, through the plainest of windows, bursts a boy in rags, straight from the starry sky, smeared with dirt and bounding with life.

Thus, Peter Pan's adventure aboard the Bainbridge Performing Arts (BPA) stage begins.

It is a fantastical re-imagining, an enviable journey to every light heart, opening tonight at the BPA playhouse. Based more on J.M. Barrie's 1904 Pan than that of Disney, the script was adapted by BPA artistic director Steven Fogell. It debuted in 2002 to a sold-out house.

Fogell, who has directed more than 70 shows for BPA, joined creative powers with Bainbridge Dance Center (BDC) to infuse dance into the show.

With 42 in its cast — the youngest being 9 years old — Fogell's "Pan" is a mesmeric adaptation, with humor for both the old and young, as well as the bookmarked moments audiences await.

"It's such a beloved story, you have to be really careful you still hit all those elements people want to see," Fogell said. Aside from flying, which is made up for in other ways, those elements are there: Hook's crying for his mommy, Pan's believing a button is a kiss.

The production incorporates wild costumes, animated screen projections and splashy lighting. "Very eye candy," Fogell described.

Shaun Pearson, 24, is a lively Pan, big in presence and puckish, with an enticing energy and quirky mannerisms that sell him as an eternal boy.

"Oh, the cleverness of me," he exclaims, a roguish Jack Kelly type with a walloping rooster crow. Pearson, who impressed crowds as Billy Bibbit in this summer's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," lends his native South African accent to Pan, bolstering the idea he comes from an otherworld, somewhere with Wild Ones and lagoons, where mermaids and pirates philander.

"He is the most perfect Peter Pan. He just looks like Peter Pan," Fogell said.

The Darling children are just that, especially little Trent Craighead who, hiding beneath a sheet as Michael, gives a giggle-inducing impression of a "creature of the lagoon." He captivates with unassuming sweetness, evoking pathos — a sure delight.

Dancer Nikki Sharp plays a brassy Tinkerbelle, in a bright red bob and fiery taffeta explosion. She is a fresh, sparkly renegade; an Ellen Page with wings.

Fourteen dancers, many of whom take on major speaking roles, put modern movement to music composed by Wes Corbett and Simon Chrisman. Susan Thompson, BDC director and one of three choreographers for "Pan," said the show affords her dancers the chance to experience dancing in a new way, "in the full skin of characters who also have lines."

In the story of the Neverbird, told by nervy mermaid Minerva, dancers create magic, their arms striking lines in unison, elegant at every turn.

And Robert Craighead transitions from a vainglorious George Darling to an ever-cruel Captain Hook, giving an oily, cold performance aboard the Jolly Roger. Following him is a merry band of pirates. They are fun, waggish and squirmy, led by Tim Tully's deliciously dynamic Smee.

See the show through Dec. 20 at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets: $24 for adults and $18 for seniors, students, youth, military, and teachers. Special backstage tickets are available for Dec. 12 and 13 matinees. Take a backstage tour, meet the actors, learn a pirate song and get a fairy wand.

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