Peter Pan flies high at Toby’s in Columbia

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Robert Friedman

Peter Pan, played by MaryKate Brouillet, and the Darling children, played by Anderson Franco, Katie Tyler and Jace Franco, fly through the nursery before heading to Neverland in Toby’s Dinner Theatre’s production of Peter Pan, playing through June 12.
Photo by Jeri Tidwell Photography

Wild Indians, bungling pirates and kids who know what’s important (not growing up) are whooping, flailing and flying all over the small stage at Toby’s in the dinner theater’s gleeful and invigorating Peter Pan.

The inspiring energy — which has been achieved in a very disciplined form through terrific choreography, strong vocalizing and faultless acting — almost never lessens in this production.

Of course, the musical (based on J.M. Barrie’s classic story) is packed with by now somewhat clichéd wisdom: that imagination born in childhood fades in “maturity;” that individual freedom eventually gives way to family and society; that the vitality of the “moment” should be as treasured as the remembered past and the anticipated future.

And critics have negatively noted that Native Americans get a rough going-over in the play: they’re called “Redskins” (sound derisively familiar?) and made to ugh and wug around the stage.

Still, and all, let’s consider the time (1903) and the place (Scotland and London) of the origin of the play.

And let us note that the play is definitely a fantasy for — to use another true cliché — kids of every conceivable age, who made up the audience at a recent Friday night performance. The youngest ones were happily glued to their seats as part of several two-and-three-generation families in attendance.

Fabulous cast

As far as the stellar cast is concerned, MaryKate Brouillet soars, sings and leaps around in wonderful fashion as the young Peter Pan. She follows the tradition of women playing the flighty boy on stage (Mary Martin on Broadway and TV, Sandy Duncan, Mia Farrow and many others).

Through her glorious vocalizing, Ms. Brouillet sets the scene in the bedroom of the Darling kids, who soon will be flying away with her. She sings to them about “Neverland,” after boasting a bit with “I Gotta Crow,” and leads them up into the air with “I’m Flyin.’”

And once they all arrive in Neverland, there’s very little letup in song, and especially dance, as they get together with these imaginary home-away-from-home inhabitants, i.e., the Lost Boys, the Wild Indians, and Captain Hook and his Pirates.

The ensemble dancing, especially in “Hook’s Tango,” “Indian Dance,” “I Won’t Grow Up,” and “Ugh-A-Wug,” is very special. I imagine major credit for the marvelous dancing — besides to the dancers, themselves — must go to choreographer Mark Minnick, who also directed the play along with Toby Orenstein.

Further credit, I imagine, should also go to the great Jerome Robbins, who originally choreographed and directed the 1954 Broadway production.   

Dual roles

Veteran actor David Boszley-Reynolds deserves kudos for his dual role as the somewhat cranky family father, Mr. Darling, and the mean, blustery Captain Hook (who, however, I would have liked to see portrayed a bit more despicably).

 Special mention should also be made of Katie Tyler, who shines sweetly as Wendy, the surrogate mom of the Neverland kids; David James as Smee, Captain Hook’s nutty first matey; Amanda Leigh Corbett, as the Indian maiden Tiger Lily, who dances up several storms; and Heather Marie Beck, who plays Mrs. Darling when she’s not slithering across the floor as the Crocodile, which has a special taste for Captain Hook.

The crocodile has bitten off the captain’s arm, causing him to attach his famous curved metal hand. Luckily for the captain, the croc has also swallowed a tick-tocking clock, so Hook is always aware when it closes in for another bite.

The assorted giraffes, lions, living and breathing trees, Indians, pirates, and big and little kids are all first-rate. The hidden orchestra led by Brandon Fullenkamp swings and sways with precision.

Considering the small space available, the set designs by David Hopkins are well evocative of, among other settings, Indian pow-wows and pirates’ dens. The lighting design by Lynn Joslin and sound engineering by Mark Smedley give giddy stage life to the firefly-like Tinker Bell.

What does not fully pan out, however, is the somewhat confusing pirate-ship scene, in which planks are walked and a bomb is thrown to unbluster Captain Hook forever.

Be prepared for an intermission-and-a-half, between Act I and Act II, while the actors (who double as servers) collect payment for the dinner bills. But when the play finally becomes the thing again, get ready for fun and fantasy that even old fogies can enjoy as kids again.

Peter Pan is onstage at Toby’s Dinner Theatre through June 12. Tickets, which include a matinee champagne brunch or dinner buffet, cost $50 to $60 for adults (depending on performance) and $41.50 for children 12 and under. 

The theatre is located at 5900 Symphony Woods Rd., in Columbia. For tickets, call (301) 596-6161. More information is available at www.tobysdinnertheatre.com.