Regional Reviews: San Diego
Based on J. M. Barrie's book, "Peter and Wendy," Fly is a musical in a long line of Peter Pan, musicals, including one by Leonard Bernstein and the most produced version, written originally for Mary Martin, with music by Mark Charlap and lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, with additional music and lyrics by Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green. With a book by playwright Rajiv Joseph, music by EGOT winner Bill Sherman, and lyrics by Kirsten Childs, one would expect a work that tells the familiar story in a creative yet familiar way.
The expectations prove to be correct. Peter (Lincoln Clauss) and Wendy (Storm Lever) fly off to Neverland, not because Tink (Isabelle McCalla) sprinkles pixie dust on them, but because each is successful in forgetting everything about the past. Once they arrive, they find a jungle island (designed by Anna Louizos with lighting by Howell Binkley), where the lost boys rule over one zone, Hook (Eric Anderson) and his pirate band rule over another zone, and a crocodile enchantress (Liisi LaFontaine) and her crew wander the area looking to cast spells and lure in human food.
The conflicts are predictable: the lost boys, led by Peter, and the pirates, led by Hook, get into fights (marvelously choreographed by Steve Rankin) and plot revenge from fights, all the while trying to avoid the crocodile's wiles. Occasionally, the pattern breaks and one of the lost boys starts remembering, aging, and switching sides to be with the pirates.
Because of the predictability, Hook becomes the most interesting character. In the Mary Martin version, Hook is an urbane version of Wendy's father. In this version, Hook is as stuck as everyone elsehe regrets mightily the loss of one hand, and he remembers his mother fondly and wishes for a replacement. He settles on Wendy for that role, even though she is ill-prepared to fill it. Knowing this, the crocodile's seduction of Wendy focuses on female empowerment in what is truly a man's world.
Is there enough here to keep adults who know the story "in the game?" Perhaps, perhaps not. There are enough quirks and plot surprises to keep boredom with the tale from setting in. So, director Jeffrey Seller pours on the production values for insurance. Paul Tazewell has designed stylish ragamuffin outfits for kids and adults alike, sexy magical outfits for Tink and Crocodile, and wild animal leotards for a large corps of dancers (choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler and Stephanie Klemons). There is even a "drum language" that is performed at times by the ensemble (Will Van Dyke is the music supervisor; Nevin Steinberg designed the sound).
The music comes across as intrusive in act one, and it is here where the drum effects can overwhelm everything and make all of the songs sound alike. The score becomes more personally focused in the second act, when the impulse toward spectacle lessens, with more effective results.
And of course there is flying, which is always an eye-catcher (Pichón Baldinu is the aerial designer). There are sometimes as many as three characters flying at once, which is a feat in itself.
This sometimes leaves the actors with not that much to do, and though the cast is more than capable, Mr. Anderson's Hook still walks off with the evening. As Peter, Mr. Clauss is dressed as if he is eternally on the verge of adolescence, and there's some sexual chemistry between his character and Ms. Lever's Wendy that's undeniable. Ms. McCalla's Tink gets her moments to shine, too, but it's Mr. Anderson who is most central to the plot and whose performance takes up the most space in the audience's heads.
La Jolla Playhouse, as it sometimes does, gives this production a chance to air itself in front of sophisticated audiences so the creatives can see what works and what doesn't. Audiences, for their part, get to see something that is more spectacular (and expensive) than what typically gets staged in San Diego. Overall, it's a good deal.
Fly runs through March 29, 2020, at La Jolla Playhouse, Mandell Weiss Theatre, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla CA. Performances are Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m.; Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 7 p.m.; and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. For tickets and information, please call the box office at 858-550-1010 or visit lajollaplayhouse.org.
The lost boys and the pirates are played by Victor E. Chan, Audrey Cymone, Jeremy Davis, Nick Eibler, Collin Jeffery, Nehal Joshi, Sean Pope, David Price, Daniel Quadrino, and Daniel Stewart Sherman. Ensemble members are Hattie Barnhill, Dayna Jarae Dantzler, Victoria Fiore, Shonica Gooden, Amara Granderson, Masumi Iwai, Emily Grace Kersey, Kamille Upshaw, and Naomi C. Walley. Swings are Lilith Freund, Jimmy Larkin, Jake Millgard, and Alexia Sky.