A loose hybrid of revue and staged recital, this production had just enough exposition-and flying-to qualify as a real Peter Pan. It follows on a decade of renewed interest in the many musical versions of the Peter Pan story, including the rediscovery of some less well-known songs by Leonard Bernstein from a short-lived 1950 Broadway production starring the truly incredible (even to imagine) team of Jean Arthur and Boris Karloff. This “musical tour” also anticipates by one year a fully staged production of the Bernstein version, which Santa Barbara Theatre plans to put on in December 2008 at the Lobero. The principal singers-Carolyn Hennesy, Penny Peyser, Fleur Philips, and Robert Yacko, along with Miller James and his tuneful pirates-were joined onstage by a delightfully self-possessed group of seven singing and dancing children. First act highlights included Yacko and Hennesy on the unusual Robert King and Ray Henderson 1924 pop song, “Peter Pan (I Love You)” and Hennesy’s tender “Lullaby,” the J. M. Barrie composition that both validated the evening’s subtitle-103 Years of Songs from Peter Pan-and made a connection to the Beatles, who borrowed the lyrics from this song for Abbey Road’s “Golden Slumbers.”
In the second half, Bernstein came to the fore with numbers such as “Neverland,” “Hook’s Soliloquy,” “Plank Round,” and “Dream with Me.” Are they classics? Is there enough Bernstein material for a definitive Peter Pan? Only time, and another season of SBT, will tell. In the meantime, we had some fine flying from Penny Peyser. Smooth and not overly acrobatic, this was flying that, like good acting, doesn’t call attention to itself. Children onstage and off were delighted, and pixie dust-lots of pixie dust-flew. Director Albert Ihde and musical director and onstage pianist Richard Weiss collaborated to get a great range of very professional performances out of everyone. From the youngest child to the most grizzled Equity pirate, from Peter to the pantomime horse, this Pan sparkled with confidence and musicality.