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    Stage Review

    ‘Peter Pan’ sometimes charms, seldom soars

    Elena Ricardo plays the title role in the North Shore Music Theatre production of “Peter Pan.”
    Paul Lyden
    Elena Ricardo plays the title role in the North Shore Music Theatre production of “Peter Pan.”

    BEVERLY — If Peter Pan is the boy who refuses to grow up, “Peter Pan’’ is the show that refuses to go away.

    Not that we necessarily want it to, he added hastily, mindful that inciting an uprising of Pan fans would be unwise. Although an awful lot of Edwardian tweeness clings to J.M. Barrie’s fanciful tale, its appeal has proven remarkably durable, somehow managing to cast its spell on youngsters in one generation after another.

    In fact, interest in all the permutations of Barrie’s story has only seemed to accelerate in recent years, from a 2012 Broadway prequel, “Peter and the Starcatcher’’ to a live NBC broadcast of the musical adaptation of “Peter Pan’’ in 2014 to a dramatization of Barrie’s real-life inspiration, “Finding Neverland,’’ first as a movie, then as a musical presented at Cambridge’s American Repertory Theater before moving to Broadway in 2015.


    “Peter Pan’’ is still probably best-known today for the deathless musical adaptation, which premiered on Broadway in 1954, starring Mary Martin as Peter Pan, and later served as a vehicle for Sandy Duncan and (multiple times) Cathy Rigby. That adaptation is now at North Shore Music Theatre, overseen by the husband-and-wife team of Bob Richard (director) and Diane Laurenson (choreographer), starring Elena Ricardo in the title role.

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    We first see Ricardo’s Peter when, attached to quite visible wires, she soars through the window into the cheap-looking nursery that contains Wendy Darling (Kate Fitzgerald) and her younger brothers Michael (AJ Scott) and John (Jake Ryan Flynn). The Darlings will eventually be borne aloft as well, though the flying stunts of this “Peter Pan’’ are less than dazzling, perhaps because of the logistical limitations of NSMT’s in-the-round configuration.

    The show likewise keeps promising heights it doesn’t often reach. I was intermittently charmed but seldom truly enchanted. But then I’m not exactly the target demographic, am I? When watching “Peter Pan,’’ especially during those moments when we may chafe at once again experiencing this oft-told tale, the challenge and obligation for us non-youngsters is to keep in mind whom the show is for. So I’m duty-bound to report that the kids in the audience at the performance I attended seemed to respond to the show with considerable enthusiasm.

    Ricardo’s performance is more capable than captivating, but she’s a likable actress and a clear-voiced singer who ably puts over songs like “I Gotta Crow,’’ “Never Never Land,’’ and (with Wendy and the Lost Boys) “I Won’t Grow Up.’’ Once they’re in Neverland, Peter et. al. are menaced by an amusingly inept band of pirates led by a blustering, luxuriantly black-maned Captain Hook, played by James Beaman, who has a grand time as the sputtering would-be swashbuckler. Hook, in turn, is menaced by a hungry crocodile who is determined to devour the rest of the captain, having previously snacked on his hand. Beaman, a versatile and gifted Beverly native, also portrays stuffed-shirt paterfamilias Mr. Darling, opposite Kathy St. George as Mrs. Darling. The role doesn’t afford St. George, a Boston theater mainstay, much of a chance to showcase her substantial comic gifts. This “Peter Pan’’ is most fun when Beaman teams up with the rubber-limbed and very funny Paul Castree, who plays Smee, Hook’s hapless henchman.

    When it comes to the element of “Peter Pan’’ that has been most offensive to contemporary audiences — the depiction of Tiger Lily (Victoria Byrd) and the tribe of Neverlanders — this production mostly treads carefully, refraining from the wearing of headdresses and pidgin-speak in the dialogue, though Peter, Tiger Lily, the Neverlanders, and the Lost Boys do perform the song “Ugh-a-Wug.’’


    Director Richard and choreographer Laurenson manage to put a distinctive stamp on “Peter Pan’’ in an early scene, when Peter returns to the Darling household to retrieve his shadow, left behind on an earlier visit. Peter engages in a rollicking dance with his shadow, which is represented not by a lighting effect as is often the case, but rather by performer Liesl Jaye, who mimics Ricardo move for move, like the famous mirror scene in the Marx Brothers’ “Duck Soup.’’


    Musical based on the play by Sir J.M. Barrie

    Lyrics by Carolyn Leigh. Music by Morris (Moose) Charlap. Additional lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Additional music by Jule Styne.

    Directed by Bob Richard. Choreography, Diane Laurenson. Music direction, Peter Leigh-Nilson.

    Presented by North Shore Music Theatre, Beverly. Through July 22. Tickets $59-$84, 978-232-7200,

    Don Aucoin can be reached at Follow him on Twitter@GlobeAucoin