The whimsy of childhood—the adventure, the innocence, the constant discovery—remains with people well after adolescence. Experts in the psychology field routinely implore folks to get in touch with their inner-child and shake the binding shackles of adulthood. This ideology colors the story world of Thalian Association’s latest production, “Peter Pan.”
Peter Pan lore was first created by novelist and playwright Sir J.M. Barrie, who featured him in a section of his 1902 book, “The Little White Bird.” Two years later Barrie wrote a stage production about the adulthood-weary adventurer entitled “Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up.” He subsequently released a full novel about the character in 1911. The play was adapted to Broadway in 1954, with music by Jule Styne, Mark Charlap and Trude Rittmann, and lyrics by Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Carolyn Leigh.
Since, the character has become immortalized through countless stage renditions, unauthorized prequels, and Disney films out the wazoo. Peter even has been portrayed by the late, great Robin Williams in the 1991 film, “Hook.”
Thalian Association’s upcoming musical will be helmed by the direction and choreography of artistic director David T. Loudermilk. Previously, he’s directed and choreographed “A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine,” “The Taffetas,” and “White Christmas,” as well as “High School Musical” for Thalian Associations’ Children’s Theatre. His skill set for working with kids is perfect for the upcoming production that brings Peter (Emilia Torello), Wendy (Arianna Torello), John (Chase Coston), Michael (Carson Holmes), and the lost boys to life. (Word has it: He’s even making a few of them fly!) Loudermilk cast female siblings Emilia and Arianna as Peter and Wendy.
“During the audition process, I try not to look at any existing circumstances other than what the actor is bringing to the audition,” Loudermilk says. “With that being said: The idea of them being sisters crossed my mind; however, it was never a concern. In fact, it was a bonus because they could rehearse together. Both of these actresses, as well as the entire cast, take the rehearsal process very serious. It has not created a different dynamic, but a stronger one.”
“Peter Pan” has a long history of being played by females; theatre productions often cast adult women in the role of young boys. Mary Martin starred as the title character in the original Broadway version, for which she won a Tony. As well, the 1974 production starred gymnist Cathy Rigby. This version in particular is one that Loudermilk has studied.
“When we held auditions, we actually had four call backs for Peter—ranging in age from 11 to 30,” Loudermilk says. “But there was something about Emilia—her energy. She just embodies the youthfulness of ‘Peter Pan.’”
The classic tale whisks viewers away to Neverland, where they are met with the devious Captain Hook (J. Stuart Pike). Hook is in hot pursuit of Peter because the lad cut off his hand and fed it to a crocodile. The crocodile—whose diet also includes a ticking clock that alerts Hook when its near—has developed a taste for the evil pirate. Peter must battle with the infamous pirate while also wrestling with his desire to remain a child forever.
“This story has a special place in my heart,” Loudermilk details. “A friend of mine and I call each other Peter and Wendy because we refuse to grow up.”
Like many adults, the story of Peter Pan speaks volumes to Loudermilk. While children will be able to enjoy the musical’s fantastical world, adults will be able to latch on to its layers of depth.
“Peter’s message doesn’t refer to our physical being,” Loudermilk elaborates. “That is out of our control, [it’s more about] our actions and spirit. Many times we allow the ideas of growing up—job, bills, responsibilities—to weigh us down. There is a great moment between Hook and Peter when Hook asks Peter: ‘What art thou?’ Peter responds: ‘I am youth, I am joy, I am freedom!’”
Loudermilk aims to take the musical back to something more akin to Barrie’s original production. Barrie crafted the story after his brother passed away at a young age. Though modern productions tend to rely on the tagline, “I won’t grow up,” Loudermilk proposes the play is much more about cherishing memories. He points to a quote Barrie once said: “Never say goodbye because goodbye means going away, and going away means forgetting.”
Though this production will be entrenched in Barrie’s original intent, Loudermilk has delved into “Hook” and the 2004 film “Finding Neverland”—which starred Johnny Depp—for inspiration as well. Musical director Michael Lauricella will bring energy to numbers such as “Pirate Song,” “I Won’t Grow Up” and “Never Never Land.”
Folks can recapture their youth and enjoy this family-friendly bit of culture starting Thursday. “My personal thought is that Neverland is anywhere and everywhere,” Loudermilk says. “It is best described in Peter’s lyrics: ‘It might be miles beyond the moon, or right there where you stand…’”
Thalian Hall, 310 Chestnut Street
Thurs.- Sun., Sept. 25- Oct. 5,
7:30 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.