It’s a rare night out where you can go to the theater and see something truly innovative, where you can say with absolute conviction that you have never seen anything like this before. Well, in watching this newest production of the timeless classic Peter Pan, I had that experience. In one of the most breathtakingly immersive experiences the theater has ever seen, Peter Pan didn’t just take Wendy, John and Michael to Neverland, but the entire audience as well.
Three Sixty Entertainment Ltd, has partnered with the Orange County Performing Arts Center to bring us something marvelous. They have erected a tent next to the Orange County Performing Arts Center, and within this tent, is a theater of the round. The audience is surrounding the stage below, but it is what’s above that is truly impressive. Just above the audience sits a giant circular screen over three times the size of your average IMAX screen. Throughout the production, images are projected which depict the location of that particular sequence.
This is impressive enough when the action is taking place on the stage. But when the cast takes flight, the real magic begins. Wires are used extensively in this production, but they are never distracting. The performers move through the air with ease, gracefully spinning, diving, flipping and soaring. Through intricate choreography, the illusion is created that the performers are part of the space within the projections. It’s really hard to describe, but it’s as if the projected images are moving around the cast. I literally got chills watching the initial flight to Neverland.
However, the production isn’t just about these projections. This is a very elaborate show on all fronts. While it’s a very high-tech show, there is a lot of simplicity in the theatrics down below. Old-school puppeteering bring Nana the dog, the crocodile, etc. to life. As this is a theater in the round, there is also an abundance of creativity in getting the cast on and off the stage. In a few sequences that reminded me of A Nightmare on Elm Street (of all things), the characters enter and exit scenes by disappearing into their beds. The stage itself has several built-in tricks, including a setpiece that rotates in and out of the stage as needed. While it’s easy to get lost in the experience, you never forget that you’re watching a play. I think that actually enhances the experience, grounding the production in the theatricality of the whole thing.
Adhering to J.M Barrie’s original text, this production might be a little disconcerting for those expecting Disney’s Peter Pan. In this version, Peter and the Lost Boys are more obnoxious with their disdain for the idea of growing up. There is a rage at the concept, especially within Peter. And Tinkerbell is definitely not the beloved little pixie we all grew up with. While there was an edge to Disney’s Tink, here she is rude and offputting in a way that I was not expecting. There are also aspects of the story I wasn’t expecting, such as a beutifully done mermaid attack. Personally, I enjoyed the darker tone of the story, but some people might take issue with it.
In performing this material, each and every actor is fantastic. There are times that feel downright Shakesperean, and everybody on stage is up to the task. Jonathan Hyde does a brilliant job as both Mr. Darling and Captain Hook. Instantly recognizable from several films (including the Mummy, Titanic, Jumanji, etc.), he loses himself in the part, inspiring both sympathy and fear from the audience. Simultaneously funny and scary, he is always compelling.
Just as compelling is Nate Fallows as Peter Pan. I’ve never seen his work before, but I couldn’t imagine him in any other role. He plays the part perfectly, and is an amazing counterpoint to Hyde’s performance as Hook. I was equally impressed with Abby Ford as Wendy. I could just run through the entire cast and talk about how great they all are, as there isn’t a weak link in the cast.
However, it isn’t the cast that’s going to pull audiences in. Having originated in London, moved to San Francisco and finally opened here, word-of-mouth on this is going to be huge. A technological marvel, I hope as many people as possible discover this amazing experience for themselves. Now playing at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, this is a must-see event for people of all ages.
Tickets to see Peter Pan are $30-$75. Click here to buy tickets.