'Peter Pan' takes flight in Bradenton

Classic musical today at Manatee Performing Arts Center

mclear@bradenton.comDecember 5, 2013 

You've probably been singing Moose Charlap songs all of your life, even if you've never heard of Moose Charlap.

Charlap was a one-hit wonder of Broadway musical composers. He wrote the music for most of the best songs in the 1954 musical "Peter Pan." "I Won't Grow Up," "I've Gotta Crow" and "I'm Flying" were all Charlap compositions. (Jule Styne wrote music for other songs and Adolph Comden, Betty Green and Carolyn Leigh wrote the lyrics.)

"Of course, it's a magical show," said Steve Dawson. "It's got wonderful music that has become the part of our musical subconscious."

Dawson is directing a new Manatee Players staging of "Peter Pan" that opens today in Stone Hall at the Manatee Performing Arts Center in Bradenton.

Although based on the famed 1904 play by J.M. Barrie, and the novel he later adapted from his play, most people know the story of Peter Pan, Wendy, Capt. Hook and the Lost Boys through this musical.

Dawson said he's taken some minor liberties with script to help with transitions, and tweaked a few technical aspects, but otherwise this production will be the "Peter Pan" we all know.

"I think even people who know the show won't notice the changes we've made because they're in the details," Dawson said. "The pirates have sort of a steampunk look, and the alligator is bigger than people are used to. It's a three-act play that we've turned into a two-act play. But it's still the musical we all grew up with."

Ever since the first Broadway production with Mary Martin -- a production performed regularly on TV through the 1950s and repeated in the early '60s -- the title role has traditionally been played by a woman. Gymnast Cathy Rigby forged a second career playing Peter Pan in several Broadway productions and touring shows in the 1990s.

For the Manatee Players production, young Anna Trinci takes the role of the magical boy who won't grow up. No boys turned out to audition, probably because the role is now so associated with actresses, but the field of girls who wanted the part was strong.

"She's wonderful," Dawson said of Trinci. "We had a lot of potential Peters, but as soon as she walked in we thought, 'She's perfect.' "

Casting could have been difficult, Dawson said, because "Peter Pan" and "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever," the Manatee Players show that opens the same evening in the studio theater next door, require large casts of child and teen actors. There are dozens of young people in the two shows, but Dawson said he was able to fill all the roles in his show with strong performers.

"It's not like we had an overflow," he said. "But we had enough."

Thanks to the actors, lighting designer Joseph Oshry and the national company that makes sure the flying effects are realistic (and the young actors are safe), Dawson said his "Peter Pan" is magical.

"It makes you want to be a kid," he said.

Details: Dec. 5-22, Stone Hall at Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave. W., Bradenton. Show times: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $26-$36. Information: 941-748-5875, manateeplayers.com.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919.

Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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