- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 27, 2008

Like its hero, “Peter Pan” shows few signs of aging. This is especially true with Olney Theatre’s fresh updating of

the wistful classic by director Eve Muson. It features pop-culture flourishes that will appeal to the moppets, hip-hop-inflected choreography by Boo Killebrew, and Pei Lee’s wonderfully silly and circus-bright costumes.

Based on J.M. Barrie’s 1904 story of a boy who refuses to grow up and “learn about solemn things,” “Peter Pan” originally was adapted to the musical stage by Jerome Robbins and premiered on Broadway in 1954 with Mary Martin in the lead. A hit on Broadway and in a later TV version, the show has been revived numerous times - most notably in 1979 with Sandy Duncan.

The part of Peter Pan traditionally has been played by a woman, which heightens the airy-fairy elements of the story and often lessens the more tragic aspects of a child who avoids aging, taking on responsibility and keeping track of time and memories. Olney has cast Daniel Townsend as Peter Pan, and his loose-limbed, gymnastic style and soaring vocals make him a dead ringer for a tween idol in a boy band. He seems like one of the missing members of the “Altar Boyz “cast rather than a Lost Boy. This is especially notable in the introspective second act, when Peter has to face up to his emotional shortfalls in a gently devastating scene with the more mature Wendy (Patricia Hurley), the Darling family daughter he whisks away to Neverland in the hopes she will care for him and the Lost Boys and ask nothing in return.

Luckily, there’s plenty to recommend about the show, starting with the perfectly magical high-flying effects, which make everyone in the audience wish he or she were airborne, too. The production has a real find in actor-choreographer Killebrew, who plays Tiger Lily with Alpha Girl attitude and stages the “Indian Dance” and “Ugg-a-Wugg” numbers with her fellow Indians (Florrie Bagel, Elizabeth Fette, Jennifer Irons, Kara-Tameika Watkins) executing the aggressive, sassy dance-line-cheerleader moves you’ve seen in the “Bring It On”movies.

The musical is invigorated by these youthful touches and a gaggle of veteran performers. Mitchell Hebert as a sophisticatedly sinister Captain Hook, Ethan Bowen as Hook’s goofball sidekick Smee, Peggy Yates as Mrs. Darling, and Joe Peck and Steven Cupo as two of Hook’s comically rascally pirates give “Peter Pan”depth and charm.

Be forewarned, however, that “Peter Pan”is 2 1/2 hours long, with two intermissions, which leads you to wonder if Olney had short-attention-span youngsters in mind when putting this show together. This may not be a “Peter Pan”for the ages, but it briefly makes you believe in fairies, mermaids, tick-tocking alligators and, most important, a boy who can fly.

WHAT: “Peter Pan: The Musical,” based on the play by James M. Barrie. Music by Mark Charlap with additional music by Jule Styne. Lyrics by Carolyn Leigh with additional lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green

WHERE: Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney

WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays (except Nov. 27), 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Sundays, selected 2 p.m. Wednesday matinees. Through Jan. 4.

TICKETS: $2-$48

PHONE: 301/924-3400

WEB SITE: www.olneytheatre.org

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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