Thursday, July 2, 2015

New directions for Peter Pan

It's easy--too easy--to complain about retellings of Peter Pan that I don't want to see or read (and perhaps find actively appalling for various reasons). So instead, I'm going to focus here on some stage productions I would very much like to see.

Trey McIntire's choreography for performance
 by Houston Ballet (Sara Webb and Randy Herrera)

Peter Pan ballet performances have been staged for years by companies around the world, large and small, professional and amateur, and somehow I have yet to see it. If I had paid more attention, I could have gone to a performance in a nearby city in May. I'm trying not to think too much about that.

I'm surprised I've so far been unable to find any information on the first Peter Pan ballet performance, with all its "many modal re-translations."* It's been staged with scores by a number of musicians, including some contemporaries of J. M. Barrie: Edward Elgar and Arnold Bax (ironically called by some "the Peter Pan of composers). And various choreographers have applied their hand to the piece as well--a glance at recent stagings shows that a favorite is Trey McIntire.

Northern Ballet's Kenneth Tindall as Captain Hook

So many scenes in the original play lend themselves to beautiful dance scenes, although admittedly I'd most like to see the dash and elegance of a balletic Captain Hook. (Also dancing mermaids, because the very idea is amusing.) I can accept Peter as a strapping older lad for the course of a performance.

Cast of the performance at the Welsh National Opera, 2015

There's also a very new Peter Pan opera, written in 2014. It's gotten mixed reviews, and the Jolly Roger does seem to have inexplicably been combined with a railroad carriage, but it's a version of the story I'd like to see for myself. "Symbolic interpretation hangs heavily over the rough-and-tumble jumble of Janacek, Beethoven, Stravinsky, Satie, Handel, Vivaldi, sea shanties and klezmer," said The Spectator, which sounds like enough reason.

Poet and novelist Lavinia Greenlaw (whose name I also know from her non-fiction The Importance of Music to Girls) went deep into the original text for her libretto. The music is by composer Richard Ayres, who is also known for writing what he calls NONcertos. 

Also recent--from 2013--is the production from avant-garde director Robert Wilsonwith music by Cocorosie for the Berlin Ensemble. I'm already a fan of Cocorosie, and I've heard songs from this production on their "Tales From a Grass Widow" album, so this caught my attention immediately. This highly-stylized retelling looks strange and wonderful, and entirely worth seeing.

Perhaps not.

And I must not forget Finding Neverland, even if it's not exactly a version of Peter Pan. Instead it's a theatrical adaptation of the 2004 Johnny Depp film, which tells a fictionalized version of how J.M. Barrie came to meet the Llewellyn Davies boys, who inspired his story of Peter Pan. Matthew Morrison from Glee plays Barrie, and Kelsey Grammer is American producer Charles Frohman and Captain Hook. Grammer as my beloved Captain is off-putting in so many ways, but surely by the time the musical tours, he'll have been replaced.

Not everyone loves this production. But I was skeptical of Peter and the Starcatcher, and ended up quite enjoying it, so I'm willing to reserve judgment till I see this for myself as well.

Yet perhaps the most unexpected performance I've found is the 1975 Neverland from Jim Steinman. You might recognize the name from his collaborations with Meatloaf, which is entirely appropriate--the adaptation was merely a workshop at the Kennedy Center in 1977, but three of its songs are on Meatloaf's best-selling Bat Out of Hell album. Steinman's version portrays a "chemically insane" young man who leads a group of lost boys in a dystopian Los Angeles, and tries to seduce a Wendy who is the daughter of Captain Hook, himself the inventor of a genetic mutation process. Resemblance to 1950s horror movies is completely intentional.

Hmm, come to think of it, that sounds like the kind of retelling I don't want to see. But I admit I'm fascinated it exists.

* J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan In and Out of Time: A Children's Classic at 100. Donna R. White and Anita C. Tarr, editors