Review: Peter Pan (Bad Hats Theatre)

Photo of Peter Pan CastPeter Pan is a “musical, high-energy, fast-paced romp” now playing in Toronto

We all need surprises and imagination. That’s what Bad Hats adaptation of Peter Pan playing at the Michael Young Theatre in the Young Centre for Performing Arts delivers for any cynic who may be watching. This heartwarming family show is definitely an imaginative, fun night for everyone.

Peter Pan (Sauder), the famous boy who doesn’t grow up, lives in Neverland. One night, he brings Wendy (Gabriella Albino) and her two brothers, John (Victor Pokinko) and Michael (Landon Doak), back with him to join his band of ‘Lost Boys.’ Meanwhile, the pirate Captain Hook (Paolo Santalucia) attempts to destroy Peter Pan by any means necessary.

I need to get this off my chest before I continue. Peter Pan–the story– is a story I never really liked. Coincidentally, my guest felt the same way about the source material. In this adaptation by Fiona Sauder and Reanne Spitzer, however, you aren’t getting a full rewrite of J.M. Barrie’s source material, nor is it updated for the times with specific themes. Instead, we get a musical, high-energy, fast-paced romp through the familiar story.

While I don’t like the story, this was a freaking good show that hit all the family-friendly nails on the head. I think Bad Hats Theatre knocked it out of the park. The cast is full of childlike wonder and glee, happily sweeping the audience along with them. The kids in the audience were clearly thrilled, the parents were enjoying themselves, and the music was great. It’s not hard to see why this production is constantly remounted (this is its 3rd remount at Soulpepper). You don’t get work that balances content for adults and children so perfect too often. Here, you do (with some zany charm thrown in).

Think of it as a series of levels: there is the kid level, where actors swordfight kids or they rescue fairies with their words. There’s the family-level, where the audience joins in, with parents helping their kids make roofs over the heads, and people swinging back and forth in their seats as part of the dance. Finally, there’s the adult-level, where there are little jokes that are far above a little one’s head but are the perfect height for everyone 18 and up.

For example, take Tinkerbell (Spitzer). Spitzer is the gift in the show that just keeps on giving. Speaking in a combination of gibberish and English, and physically representing Tinkerbell with a literal bouncing ball of emotion, Spitzer runs between sarcastic one-liners and the best overdramatic acting. Spitzer’s fun for everyone and embodies the purity of the show.

Most of the show is that way–fun for everyone. The simple, imaginative ways in which the cast and crew recreate flying through choreographed lifts, the use of music and a minimal set, all of it works to bring Neverland to life. It brings to mind kids playing elaborate imaginary games, where a chest is as much a crocodile as it is a bed.

Now, my guest didn’t feel as enamoured as I was. She, like me, doesn’t dig Peter Pan, and she didn’t feel like there was much added to the show. And yet, we both agreed that the kids–arguably the real audience, I should point out–were absolutely entranced. My guest admitted that the show just wasn’t her cup of tea, but clearly, she wasn’t the audience for it.

After watching the child audience participate in swordfights, dancing, and singing, it was hard to feel the show wasn’t successful. That to me is the biggest standout, that so many children could sit so silently, and let the actors sweep them away to Neverland.


Photo of Peter Pan cast by Nicholas Porteus.