Broadway spectacles can be so tricked out with dazzling visuals and effects they don’t leave much for the imagination, but great theater still can — and does — as evidenced by freeFall Theatre, which is inviting audiences to fill in the blanks with old-fashioned fanciful delight.
The acclaimed company is presenting two productions about literature’s most beloved symbol of youth minus the bells and whistles — Peter Pan and its 21st century prequel, Peter and the Starcatcher. The shows are reminiscent of a performance villagers would crowd around in a town square, replete with the the ribald narration and playfulness of Ren Fest shows.
That’s not to say the sound and lighting aren’t first rate. Exquisite sound effects by Michael Raabe — who composed the score — and Burt Rushing on percussion make both shows special.
Perhaps most distinctive about freeFall’s Peter Pan: The theater’s executive artistic director, Eric Davis, penned the script, which borrows text straight from J.M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy with just a couple anachronistic gags, but not too many to ruin the mood.
“I didn’t really adapt anything,” Davis clarifies. “All the text is J.M. Barrie’s. It was simply a matter of doing a bit of cutting and selecting which stage directions would be spoken. Barrie’s stage directions have always been one of my favorite aspects of his writing, and sadly the audience seldom gets to experience them. In making our production a companion piece to Starcatcher, adding these narrative elements made sense, not only stylistically, but from a practical storytelling perspective. They allow us to employ the audience’s imaginations as the primary special effect, much in the same way that Starcatcher does.”
Essentially, the story in Pan is more fairy tale-like than the farcical Starcatcher, which entertains with jokes that appeal to adults while remaining safe for kids. (Starcatcher even has an Ayn Rand reference.)
The pacing in Pan is swift and won’t lose the attention of kids. It has spot-on sparring scenes and raucously fun moments as well as some tender moments. Each performer is first-rate. Not a dud in the bunch.
Like Starcatcher, the entire ensemble takes turns and hangs out on stage for narrated portions while playing multiple roles, and the banner-teeth croc that swallowed a clock plays a pivotal role once again. The top-notch performers include Chris Crawford as Capt. Hook, Taylor Simmons as our favorite boy in green (he’s also Peter Pan/Nibs in PETER PAN 360 tour), Marissa Toogood (Molly in Starcatcher, Mrs. Darling and lost boy in Pan — superb in both shows), Daniel Schwab, Robert Teasdale, Clinton Harris, Cameron Kubly, Chris Metz, Gabriella Guinta (simply sweet as Wendy), Christopher Rutherford, Britt Michael Gordon, John Mark Jernigan and Susan Haldeman (who does some impressive puppetry work with Nana the dog). Each actor takes on roles in both shows.
While Simmons’ “Boy” in Starcatcher was largely overshadowed, he owns his role as the titular hero in Pan, brandishing just the right spunk and spirit. Chris Crawford is a dynamo, as bawdy, foppish and hilarious — and scene-stealing — as Captain Hook as he is as Black Stache in Starcatcher. Crawford should spin his swishy swashbuckling character off into a one-man show.
Tinkerbell is the tiniest player; a little flicker like a lightning bug, but somehow emerges as memorable character, as well, thanks Raabe’s twinkly musical effects.
SOME PERTINENT DETAILS
Peter Pan and Peter and the Starcatcher run on alternating evenings Wednesday-Sunday (except Christmas Day) through Jan. 29 at Freefall Theatre, 6099 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. Special presentations include a London New Year’s Eve celebration on Dec. 31 at 4 p.m., which invites all to join the cast of Peter for a family-friendly celebration ringing in the New Year. The event promises” refreshments and sparkling toasts for both young and young-at-heart, plus a few surprises.”
Warning: Showtimes can be confusing. Here are the upcoming shows, dates, times and prices provided by freeFall:
Monday, Dec. 26 7 p.m. $47 Starcatcher
Tuesday, Dec. 27 7 p.m. $47 Pan
Wednesday, Dec. 28 matinee 2 p.m. $47 Starcatcher
Wednesday, Dec. 28 7 p.m. $37 Pan
Thursday, Dec. 29 2 p.m. $47 Pan
Thursday, Dec. 29 7 p.m. $47 Starcatcher
Sunday, Jan. 1 matinee 2 p.m. $47 Pan
Wednesday, Jan. 4 7 p.m. $37 Pan
Thursday, Jan. 5 7 p.m. $47 Starcatcher
Friday, Jan. 6 8 p.m. $52 Pan
Saturday, Jan. 7 matinee 2 p.m. $37 Starcatcher
Saturday, Jan. 7 8 p.m. $52 Pan
Sunday, Jan. 8 matinee 2 p.m. $47 Starcatcher
Wednesday, Jan. 11 7 p.m. $37 Starcatcher
Thursday, Jan. 12 7 p.m. $47 Pan
Friday, Jan. 13 8 p.m. $52 Starcatcher
Saturday, Jan. 14 matinee 2 p.m. $37 Pan
Saturday, Jan. 14 8 p.m. $52 Starcatcher
Sunday, Jan. 15 matinee 2 p.m. $47 Pan
Wednesday, Jan. 18 7 p.m. $37 Pan
Thursday, Jan. 19 7 p.m. $47 Starcatcher
Friday, Jan. 20 8 p.m. $52 Pan
Saturday, Jan. 21 matinee 2 p.m. $37 Starcatcher
Saturday, Jan. 21 8 p.m. $52 Pan
Sunday, Jan. 22 matinee 2 p.m. $47 Starcatcher
Wednesday, Jan. 25 7 p.m. $37 Starcatcher
Thursday, Jan. 26 7 p.m. $47 Pan
Friday, Jan. 27 8 p.m. $52 Starcatcher
Saturday, Jan. 28 matinee 2 p.m. $37 Pan
Saturday, Jan. 28 8 p.m. $52 Starcatcher
Sunday, Jan. 29 matinee 2 p.m. $47 Pan