After a century of chasing his shadow, you’d think Peter Pan would lose his mystique.
Tell that to every director bringing him to life on stage. After weeks of rehearsals, there is always an audible gasp from that first audience full of kids the moment he takes flight.
Even if they see the wire, for a brief moment they’re enthralled.
“You get caught up in the magic,” says Toronto’s Ryan Scheel, who plays the eternally young icon in a new production opening Dec. 3 at the Scotiabank Convention Centre. “You don’t know the behind-the-scenes stuff. You don’t know what’s going on until you’re older and studying it in school.”
Scheel leads a mostly young cast for J.M. Barrie’s classic fantasy, which started out as a straightforward play in 1904 before its musical transformation on Broadway in 1954 with Mary Martin in the title role. That’s the version most always performed today, and the one which hooked Scheel at an early age.
“I’ve always wanted to play Peter Pan, but never had the opportunity,” he says.
During rehearsals, he’s seeing the same look of wonder on his costars’ faces that he once had visiting Neverland.
“Working with the young kids in this cast, you make an impression on them,” he says. “You see them looking up to you and staring at you in rehearsals. It’s an admirable feeling knowing you make that big of an impact on them.”
The show is presented by Niagara Theatre & Entertainment, the same company which brought Annie and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat to the 1,000-seat convention centre theatre.
Thanks to Peter’s constant flying, it’s the most elaborate show yet. It uses rigging by Flying By Foy, the company founded by the man who designed the flying effects for the 1954 production, Peter Foy.
The technology hasn’t changed much, says director Christopher Wilson. But the effect is the same: Pure wonder. As the rig was being tested Tuesday, convention centre staff gathered by the doors to watch.
Wilson, who’ll also play Captain Hook in the show, feels Peter Pan’s appeal is two-fold: Kids love the fantasy aspects, while adults love the concept of never growing old.
“It’s about the vast appeal of childhood,” he says. “It’s escapism … the abandonment of responsibility.”
Wilson, who also directed last year’s Annie, once again rounds out the cast with Niagara youth: About 100 young performers are split into two casts.
“Most any child, if you provide the opportunity, they’ll rise to the occasion.”
By John Law, Niagara Falls Review