Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Peter Pan
National Tour
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's recent reviews of Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka and Roger & Gene

Nolan Almeida
Photo by Matthew Murphy
Based on J. M. Barrie's beloved character that appeared in his 1904 play Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up, the 1954 stage musical adaptation Peter Pan proved to be a big hit when it was televised to 65 million viewers in a live TV studio broadcast in 1955. The musical has had three Broadway revivals, several additional TV broadcast productions, and has gone on to be produced by theatre companies across the world.

For its current national tour, which is at ASU Gammage through Sunday, the show has been updated for a modern audience with changes to the time period, some tweaks to the characters, and to remove the negative representation of the Native Americans in the original musical. However, only some of the changes to the book and score work. Fortunately, the touring cast are all excellent (including Nolan Almeida, who is wonderful as Peter), the creative aspects are colorful and impressive, and the flying effects are fantastic. So, while the changes may not all improve on the original musical, it's still an entirely magical theatrical experience that is sure to delight theatregoers young and old.

The plot begins late one evening when Peter Pan visits the Darling family home and meets Wendy Darling and her younger brothers John and Michael. Enchanted by Peter's tales of Neverland, and aided by a sprinkle of fairy dust from Peter's fairy friend Tinkerbell, the children fly off with Peter seeking adventure. In Neverland, they encounter the Lost Boys, the fierce Tiger Lily, and the nefarious Captain Hook, while also learning the importance of bravery, friendship, and the joys of childhood. However, while Peter wants to never grow up and remain a boy forever, the others face the bittersweet realization that growing up is an inevitable part of life's adventure.

The original musical had multiple people involved in its creation, including composers Morris (Moose) Charlap and Jule Styne and lyricist Carolyn Leigh, along with the lyric-writing team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green, as well as original director Jerome Robbins, who devised the original, well-regarded flying choreography. The revised book for this new national tour by Native American playwright Larissa FastHorse (the first Native playwright to have a play produced on Broadway and who is currently a professor at ASU), along with some new lyrics by Amanda Green, the daughter of Adolph Green, give the show a fun, modern spin while also providing a more sensitive take on the original musical's racist depictions of Native Americans. While these changes are necessary, especially in the removal of harmful stereotypes concerning the depiction of Tiger Lily and her tribe, other tweaks to the story take away, somewhat, from the musical's heart. By sanding away some of the original book's rough edges, the emotional sheen has been lessened instead of enhanced. So, while Peter is still the gregarious, fun-loving boy, he's now surer of himself in his decision to never grow up so the audience feels less sympathy for him when he realizes he'll never feel the joys of adulthood. The new script also downplays the grown-up Wendy's realization that she's now too old to fly away with Peter on another adventure due to a somewhat rushed final scene.

However, other changes work perfectly to incorporate modern themes and sensibilities into the story and to also explain why Tiger Lily and the other members in her tribe are in Neverland. FastHorse's changes also make Tiger Lily and Wendy equals to Peter in his fight against Hook and give them more to do and more of a contribution to the plot. Green's changes include some lyric tweaks as well as taking the song "Comes Once in a Lifetime" from the flop 1961 musical Subways are for Sleeping (music by Jule Styne and lyrics Adolph Green and Betty Comden), and turning it into the energetic act one ender, "Friends Forever." A cut song from the original production, "When I Went Home," has been added back to give more clarity to Peter's past. Also, the multi-cultural casting allows audiences members to see themselves represented on stage, no matter their ethnicity.

The entire non-Equity cast are excellent. Seventeen-year-old Nolan Almeida shines as the eternally youthful Peter Pan, who unabashedly bursts through the window of the Darling residence and never lets anything get in his way. His throaty, energetic singing voice has a modern sound which works well for the updated setting and the enthusiasm be brings to the role is infectious; it's easy to see why any child would want to fly away to Neverland with him. Understudy Cheyenne Omani portrayed Wendy at the performance I attended, with a perfect blend of curiosity and courage that captured her transformation from a responsible older sister with plans to go to medical school to an adventurous friend to Peter. Omani's pure, rich voice brought depth and emotion to her songs.

Cody Garcia delivers a compelling performance as the frazzled workaholic Darling father, capturing his struggle to balance his career with his family responsibilities, and is deliciously evil, but in a very fun way, as Captain Hook in two completely unique performances. Garcia's clear singing voice is superb, and they have a wonderful rapport with the entire cast. Raye Zaragoza is perfect as the fierce Tiger Lily who isn't afraid to stick up for her tribe and her friends. Zaragoza's earthy voice adds depth to her songs. As Mrs. Darling, Shefali Deshpande adds a touch of warmth and poignancy, and a whole lot of love, with a clear singing voice that shines on "Tender Shepherd," and Kurt Perry adds plenty of humor to the production as Hook's bumbling sidekick Smee.

Camden Kwok and Micah Turner Lee (they alternate in the roles with Reed Epley and William Foon) as Wendy's brothers, Michael and John bring a lively energy to the stage. Their excitement and sense of wonder resonate with anyone who yearns for adventure beyond their bedroom windows, and the chemistry they depict between the siblings and their parents adds a heartfelt layer to the story. The large ensemble play multiple roles with ease and appear to be having a blast.

Director Lonny Price has added many original touches that help to ensure the show connects with modern audiences and keeps new theatregoers continually engaged while also ensuring fans familiar with the original musical find fun nods to it: I especially liked Mrs. Darling's suggestion they hire a dog to watch over their kids as a way to pay homage to Nana, the canine nanny in the original play. While the script changes may downplay, somewhat, the emotional moments I mentioned above, Price manages to provide some scenes that resonate with charm and sensitivity.

The flying effects are top notch. While Paul Rubin's flight sequence choreography pays homage to Jerome Robbins' original choreography, it also features many fun acrobatic moves and delivers several spectacular stage images aided by David Bengali's immersive projections to create the feeling of exhilarating movement through time and space. I can't imagine anyone not feeling a rush of excitement and sheer giddiness when Peter and the Darling children take off in flight through the Darling nursery window. Lorin Latarro's dance choreography may be somewhat simple in the large ensemble dances, but it is also fun and original; Peter has an inventive and unique sequence when he dances and flies with his own shadow, both in and out of sync, aided by Bengali's projections.

The creative elements are superb. The large, elaborate set designs by Anna Louizos are wonderful and Sarafina Bush's costumes are fun, colorful, and character perfect, aided by the wig, hair and makeup designs by J. Jared Janas. The lighting by Amith Chandrashaker delivers gorgeous shadows for the nighttime scenes and bright colors for those set during the day. Also, Paul Kieve's innovative design to portray the mischievous Tinkerbell will keep you guessing on how this bit of technical wizardry isn't pure magic.

While this modern, updated version of Peter Pan is a more enlightening take on the classic story, it also never overly preaches while always emphasizing the theme of family and the joy of shared adventures. With strong performances, excellent creative elements, and sure-footed direction, the national tour of this beloved show is both a nostalgic trip for older audience members and a fun adventure for younger theatregoers. However, no matter your age, you will most likely feel a sense of wonder from the immersive effects, impressive projections, and mesmerizing flying sequences in a production that beautifully captures the magic and joy of the beloved tale of Peter Pan.

Peter Pan runs through June 16, 2024, at ASU Gammage, 1200 S. Forest Avenue, Tempe AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or call 480-965-3434. For information on the tour, visit

Author and Original Play: Sir J.M. Barrie
Music: Morris (Moose) Charlap
Lyrics: Carolyn Leigh
Additional Lyrics: Betty Comden and Adolph Green and Amanda Green
Additional Music: Jule Styne
Additional Book: Larissa Fasthorse
Directed by Lonny Price
Choreography: Lorin Latarro
Flying Sequences Choreographer: Paul Rubin
Scenic Design: Anna Louizos
Costume Design: Sarafina Bush
Wig, Hair and Makeup Design: J. Jared Janas
Lighting Design: Amith Chandrashaker
Sound Design: Kai Harada
Projection Design: David Bengali
"Tinker Bell" Design: Paul Kieve
Fight Direction: Sordelet Inc.
Music Director: Jonathan Marro

Peter Pan: Nolan Almeida
Captain Hook: Cody Garcia
Wendy: Cheyenne Omani
Tiger Lily: Raye Zaragoza
Mrs. Darling: Shefali Deshpande
Smee: Kurt Perry
Michael: Camden Kwok
John: Micah Turner Lee
Twins: Reed Epley, William Foon
Ensemble: Charles Antenen, Jonah Barricklo, Christina Hélène Braa , Jordan T. Deleon, Bailey Frankenberg, Leo Gallegos, Brandon Gille, Ryan Perry Marks. Michael Marrero, Hannah Schmidt, Kiara Williams