Pickleville Playhouse stages crowd-pleasing ‘Peter Pan’

As the title character, Riley Thad Young gets a boost from lost boys (from left) Kenzie Davis, Ty-Gabriel Jones and Jake Mickel in the ongoing Pickleville Playhouse production of "Peter Pan."

GARDEN CITY – The ongoing production of “Peter Pan” at the Pickleville Playhouse in Garden City is a welcome reminder of just how charming a faithful staging of a classic musical can be.

The show, staged by the multi-talented Davis clan, is playing to packed audiences in their rustic theater. It’s difficult to tell who is having more fun – the children seeing “Peter Pan” for the first time, the adults who are reliving past memories of the familiar show or the exuberant performers on stage.

Make no mistake – this is a revival of the beloved Jule Styne/Carolyn Leigh musical that premiered on Broadway in 1954. This show has been notably produced on stages and TV screens, often with actresses playing the title role, including the legendary Mary Martin, Sandy Duncan and gymnast Cathy Rigby.

In recent years, however, revisionist directors have played ill-conceived gender-bending games with some of the play’s characters and introduced dark elements into what was originally intended to be a childlike fantasy.

But the Davises have returned to the innocent roots of “Peter Pan” and their crowd-pleasing production is simply marvelous.

The diminutive dancer Riley Thad Young is perfect as Peter Pan. What he lacks in stature he more than makes up for in sheer athleticism and his surprisingly strong tenor voice is ideally suited for Peter’s anthems “I Won’t Grow Up,” “I’ve Gotta Crow,” and “I’m Flying.”

As Peter’s nemesis, the hilariously nefarious Capt. Hook, former Utah State University actor Blake Brundy delivers one of his trademark over-the-top performances.

Hook is amusingly aided and abetted in his evil schemes by Spencer Watson, as the inept pirate first-mate Smee.

The lovely Katelyn Walsh is thoroughly winsome as Wendy, although the score of “Peter Pan” doesn’t give her the same opportunity to shine vocally as this summer’s earlier Pickleville production of “Becoming a Bona Fide Bad Guy.”

Much of the music of “Peter Pan” is pure schmaltz of the type that went out of fashion long before these Pickleville actors were born, but they nevertheless perform those songs with touchingly wholehearted sincerity.

The intimate scale of the Pickleville Playhouse has obliged director Derek Davis to make some alterations in the traditional staging of “Peter Pan.”

Given the theater’s low ceiling, the flying harnesses of the Broadway production simply aren’t feasible here.

Davis has also reduced the number of Hook’s henchmen and Lost Boys to fit the theater’s postage stamp sized stage.

But the Pickleville cast’s boundless enthusiasm is so infectious that those accommodations are barely noticeable.

The only nod to modern political correctness in this unabashedly retro production was removing any suggestion that Tiger Lilly – played with wild gusto by superb dancer Shealyn Kelley – was originally intended to be an indigenous person.

Additional performances of “Peter Pan” will continue in repertory at the Pickleville Playhouse through Aug. 20.

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