It's funny how the older we get, the more emotional we become about J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan—the 1911 novel and various stage versions. Upon introduction to Peter Pan, kids love the action and adventure, the fairies, the swordfights and the little flying boy. But Peter Pan was never intended as a story for children alone, as is obvious to anyone caught mentioning a fairy "orgy" or decrying the cruelty and "heartlessness" of children, while reading the book aloud to their kids.
Peter Pan is, to a large degree, a psychological and sociological examination of the differences between childhood and adulthood, culminating in the observation that each holds benefits and deficits not available to the other.
In other words, Peter Pan is a very sad story. Fortunately, it's also a blast.
And in the smart, entertaining, visually inventive, play-drenched production of the 1954 musical adaptation currently playing outdoors atop Mt. Tam as this year's Mountain Play, there is all of that kid-friendly stuff and plenty of heart-stopping emotion to choke up the adults who still remember what it was like to play and pretend like our lives depended on it.
Director Michael Schwartz, a Broadway veteran with an eye for spectacle, shows a keen sense of how to use the entire enormous stage area of the Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre, overlooking the San Francisco Bay. On a set resembling a summer camp playground in the woods, pirates, natives and lost boys erupt from all corners of the amphitheater, a crocodile is assembled from spare tires and puppets, shadows dance, an invisible fairy knocks things over and pulls hair, magical animals prowl, trampolines are hopped upon, teeters are tottered, and bright-colored balls are bounced out into the crowd.
As Peter, Melissa WolfKlain displays a strong singing voice and a nicely boyish sense of rough-and-tumble confidence, making it obvious why Wendy (Erin Ashe) and her brothers John and Michael (Jeremy Kaplan, Claire Lentz) would leave the safety of their beds and follow him to Neverland, where pirates await amongst other dangers. The goofily villainous Captain Hook (a very strong Jeff Wiesen) and his right-hand man Smee (David Yen, hilarious) do a good job of straddling the threatening-vs-comedic nature of their characters. Most importantly, Peter flies, beautifully, thanks to some conspicuous but still magical pulleys and wires.
Kids will be happy and older folks will be happy and sad at the same time—because, hey, that's the magic of Peter Pan.
'Peter Pan' runs Sundays though June 21 (and one Saturday, June 12), at the Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre. 801 Panoramic Hwy. Mill Valley. 2 pm. $20–$40. 415.383.1100