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Camelot rolls out flair in 'Peter Pan'

“Peter Pan, Broadway’s Timeless Musical” is introduced with big band music that swells about the house, and projections that make you feel like you’re veering through clouds high in the heavens, traveling at lightning speed miles above the earth. And then a translucent curtain pulls back and you land, suddenly in a London nursery.

Camelot’s “Peter Pan” is a 1940’s MGM classic crowned with Disney-esque flair to craft a brilliant, fantastic production. J.M. Barrie’s fanciful tale was first adapted for the British stage in 1904. “Peter Pan” opened last week at the Camelot Theatre to an enthralled audience and a full house.

Peter Pan appears one night in the Darling’s London nursery and persuades little Wendy to run away to Neverland and join him in a perfect life of freedom, a paradise where she can be mother to a crew of lost boys. All three of the Darling children fly with Peter Pan to the island, where pirates and native peoples threaten their secret lives in the jungle. Finally captured by the pirates, Peter Pan frees the children who return home, and the lost boys are adopted into the Darling family.

Peter Pan, (Ryder Emerson) soars above the stage at Camelot. He’s a lad who refuses to grow up and become an adult. Peter Pan is destined to live forever, followed closely by Tinkerbell, winking and whistling about the stage in flashes of light. Emerson is clever in the role, not too fanciful, not too boyish. As Peter Pan, Emerson is caught in a half-life, almost adolescent but not quite and heroic in his protection of his crew but never losing his frenetic, twitchy, glee.

Annie Siegel has the role of Wendy Darling, the oldest of three siblings, Michael (played by Eli Siegel) and John (played by Dominic Walsch). As Wendy, Siegel is captivated by dreams of Peter Pan, and senses his nighttime visitations. Siegel is an awesome Wendy: she’s young, on the verge of romantic and physical love, almost hypnotized by Peter Pan. She playacts a role within a role somewhere far away in a Neverland cave tending to the lost boys, feeding them, instructing them, caring for them. Dressed in a white, virginal slip, Siegal as Wendy suspects how an adult woman might behave, might act but carries herself with the tentative naiveté of a child.

When Shawn Ramagos began as Camelot’s artistic director last year, he was warned to leave his Disneyland dreams of flying at home.

They told him that the Camelot stage supports were too low, that there was no loft, that actors could not fly on the Camelot stage.

Ramagos proved every doubter false and in “Peter Pan” scenes of fantastical flight. With the help of Los Angeles firm Flying by Foy, and under the able directorship of Hayley Forsyth and David Alonso Rodriguez, four of the cast, Peter Pan and the Darling children cavort, wheel, flip and pirouette high above the stage in wild abandon. It is one of the most delightful scenes among many in Camelot’s “Peter Pan.”

Belief, in oneself and others is a big part of the narrative. As the story goes, Tinkerbell will die unless convinced that we believe in fairies, and so Peter pleads to the house to call and clap his beloved Tinkerbell back to life. As Tinkerbell’s lights dim and her chimes are silenced, Peter runs across the stage, frantically asking, “Do you believe?” and the audience responds, beginning with 1- year-old Violet in the front row who shouted, “I do!”

Ramagos’ talent for set design is again apparent with huge rolling set pieces that are sturdy enough for a dozen actors. The pieces rumble loudly as they roll into place and expediently reverse to transform the stage into a London nursery, verdant jungle, pirate ship and underground cave home. Sometimes that opaque curtain comes down to put the audience into a dreamlike state of anticipation while the pieces are moved.

Intended or not, there’s a subtle edge of malevolence that an adult may sense in the Camelot Theatre production that adds another layer of consideration. The play may cause adults to think of home invasion, child abduction, Stockholm Syndrome, murder and narrow-minded Victorian stereotype visions of women. Ryder Emerson’s Peter Pan seems a little older and more knowing, less enchanted and more deliberate than a fanciful Disney character. In contrast, Mark B. Ropers as Captain Hook seems a gadfly, almost comic in the role.

So, there’s plenty appreciate at “Peter Pan” this holiday, a large and extravagant theatrical show, the final production of the season. From musicals like “Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Billy Elliot” to the amazing dark comedy, “The Gin Game” with Shirley Patton and Stuart Rider, Camelot delivers top notch theater with every performance in 2019.

“Peter Pan, Broadway’s Timeless Musical” continues at Camelot Theatre, 101 Talent Avenue in Talent, through Dec. 31, 2019. There will be a New Year’s matinée on Tuesday, Dec. 31, at 2 p.m. For tickets and more information visit CamelotTheatre.org or call the box office at 541-535-5250.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at mbattistellaor@gmail.com

Actor Ryder Kole Emerson portrays Peter in Camelot Theatre's production of "Peter Pan." Photo by Steve Sutfin.