CYT’s ‘Peter Pan’ soars with youthful expertise, energy

Peter Pan (Nathan Walla) teaches the Darling children, from left, John (Cavan Fuller), Michael (Jonathan Doome) and Wendy (Ariel Marks) in a scene from Christian Youth Theater’s “Peter Pan.  Photos by Audra Christine Photography

Peter Pan (Nathan Walla) teaches the Darling children, from left, John (Cavan Fuller), Michael (Jonathan Doome) and Wendy (Ariel Marks) in a scene from Christian Youth Theater’s “Peter Pan. Photos by Audra Christine Photography

 
 

By MARILYN JOZWIK

Published Feb. 24, 2019

I wasn’t expecting the kind of performance I saw at the first of three performances of Christian Youth Theater’s “Peter Pan,” directed by Steve Heroux, assisted by Abby Nicola. Hannah Robinson served as intern director for the show.

Characters flying through the air, pixies with lighted wings, sets that sparkled with a star-lit sky and a soaring cavern, colorful costumes, well-executed sword play, snappy choreography – even a crocodile! All this from a cast of … 96! Ninety-six kids, ages 8-18, singing, dancing and flying like true professionals!

This was my first exposure to CYT, which apparently has been around since 1980.  Many of the performers had been in multiple CYT shows, some in as many as 20. CYT has dozens of branches around the country and offers classes, workshops, camps and performance opportunities, as well as an incredible network of volunteers and benefactors. Find more information at cytchicago.org.

But back to the show, with its story of adventure and eternal youth. I could hardly believe my eyes when the curtain at the beautiful newish South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center opened up onto the Darling home, revealing handsome, solid, well-designed set pieces and a beautiful star-dotted sky above.

The colorful Neverlanders expertly executed lots of nifty choreography.

The colorful Neverlanders expertly executed lots of nifty choreography.

OK, so they’ve got a great set. Let’s see how these kids perform, I thought dubiously. Another shock. The whole family looked great, sounded great, with Ariel Marks as Wendy and Danielle Rhodes as Mrs. Darling especially nailing a British accent, providing solid, mature performances. Cavan Fuller and Johnathan Doome as John and Michael Darling, respectively, were also wonderful throughout, while Paisley Clement as the family dog (and sometime nanny!), Nana, had her inner canine working just fine. Jacob Franz as Mr. Darling had the right look and demeanor for the bemused dad with some nicely delivered lines such as, “I think it’s a big mistake to have a dog for a nurse.”

I was not prepared for Nathan Walla as Peter Pan to come flying through the gaping window, landing as soft as a butterfly in the middle of the Darling children’s bedroom. You just don’t expect that from a non-professional, children’s production. I was enthralled by the charming “I’ve Got to Crow” featuring Peter cavorting with his shadow, a lithe and limber Matthew Leskinen.

“I’m Flying” got John, Michael, Wendy and Peter all off the ground in an expertly designed scene with Peter appearing convinced that flying is no big deal while the Darling kids start a little tentatively, but soon are flying like birds off to Neverland. It was a charming scene that the very enthusiastic crowd loved.

I had barely gotten over cooing over that delightful scene when out came dozens of brightly clad Neverlanders and graceful pixies led by Issy Lambert’s feisty Tinkerbell in “Sunrise in Neverland.” I was much impressed by the expertise of these young dancers and the attention to detail – pointed toes and crisp in-sync movements, with engaging smiles and joie de vivre.

Next to shine were the pirates and Captain Hook, played with a suave, arrogant air plus a nice handle on comedy by David Wagenknecht, accompanied by his sycophantic sidekick, Smee (Amanda Franz). Before they showed up, the Lost Boys, Peter’s Neverland family, got together for a couple of utterly charming scenes that included Tootles (Rylan Wadina) accidentally shooting down with an arrow the flying Wendy, thinking she was a bird.

The Lost Boys are always ready for a battle.

The Lost Boys are always ready for a battle.

Hook and his pirates beautifully executed a trio of dances – tango, tarantella and waltz – giving their wicked characters a chance to display their terpsichorean skills.

Sydni Villanueva’s Tiger Lily got in and out of predicaments with élan in Act II, which comes to a most satisfying conclusion.

Through all these scenes were lovely solos – especially by the incredibly talented Marks as Wendy and Rhodes’ Mrs. Darling in “Tender Shepherd” and “Distant Melody.” Vocal director Jessica Marks also had the ensemble producing full sound and nice harmonies. The “I’ve Gotta Crow” reprise filled the audience – and half of South Milwaukee – with resounding mega sound.

Walla was sweet, smooth and endearing as the boy who won’t grow up, with good vocals – though a couple songs could have been pitched a little higher for his pleasing tenor voice. He and Wagenknecht expertly handled the exciting swordplay between Peter and Hook.

About the only thing I would have wished for in this amazing production is live music, rather than the recorded versions.

If you go

Who: Christian Youth Theater

What: “Peter Pan”

When: Through Feb. 24

Where: South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center, 905 15th Ave., South Milwaukee

Info: cytchicago.org; 847-516-2298