Peter Pan has a legacy spanning over 100 years, with numerous iconic versions on stage and screen. So how will playwright Lauren Gunderson’s new adaptation Peter Pan and Wendy nod to the original while presenting a fresh new version? Director Alan Paul (The Comedy of Errors, Camelot) and the incredibly talented creative team on Peter Pan and Wendy are preparing to transport audiences of all ages to worlds both familiar and whimsical, never losing sight of what makes the Peter Pan story beloved around the world.
Emmy Award-winning Scenic Designer Jason Sherwood (Rent: Live, The Taming of the Shrew) returns to STC to take us on a journey from London to Neverland, soaring through the sky, traipsing deep underground, boarding a pirate ship, even diving underwater into a mermaid cave. Two-time Drama Desk Award nominee Loren Shaw’s (The Taming of the Shrew) costume designs span the classical and the fantastical.
An interesting note: the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London holds the rights to J.M. Barrie’s estate, and they stipulated that this new adaptation still needed to begin in Edwardian England. So, the play opens in the traditional Darling family nursery. “The great thing about this time period is that the shapes and silhouettes are already pretty extreme as far are being very feminine and very masculine,” explains Shaw, “and I try to push that even more because we have this world that has these very strict gender stereotypes.” The designs for Captain Hook also stem from this same period. Rather than the standard depiction based on Charles II, complete with giant hat and long, curly wig, our Hook is based on turn-of-the-century tycoons of industry. As Shaw has created him, “he’s just dripping with wealth, he’s a poacher, he’s this gentleman villain who is almost so respectable that he can actually get away with things.”
Expect a jump in style as we move from the real world of the nursery to the magical world of Neverland. In this adaptation, Neverland is Peter’s dream world. “I want it to be like a boy’s fantasy of what the world could be,” explains Paul. So rather than forests of trees, Neverland is represented by piles of toys, exactly as Gunderson’s young sons leave them around her house. This enormous set piece transforms into the underground cave of the Lost Boys, complete with secret entrances, multiple levels to climb, and even a working smokestack. As Shaw explains, “The Lost Boys are from all sorts of different time periods, and different walks of life.” They all got lost for different reasons, whether they are orphans, couldn’t find their way home, or were running away from something.
“As much as I was delighted by the original Peter Pan as a child, it’s obvious now that Tiger Lily and her family were horrendous and insulting stereotypes,” says Gunderson. “We’re better than that, and we’re beyond that.” In Peter Pan and Wendy, Isabella Star LaBlanc, a Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota actress, plays a modern Tiger Lily fighting to take back her land from Captain Hook. “It felt important that her people were all here and now, that they weren’t people from the past, that they’re the most real out of everyone in Neverland,” says Shaw. Expect a bold, incisive, intelligent young woman who stands up for herself and her people.
One other inhabitant of Neverland, Tiger Lily’s crocodile, may be one of the largest pieces ever to appear on stage at Sidney Harman Hall. Puppet designer James Ortiz, whose “stunning” designs were last seen in The Tempest in 2014 and called “the highlight of an enchanting night at the theatre” (DC Metro Theatre Arts), returns with more theatre magic to bring Captain Hook’s formidable foe wondrously to life. Without giving too much away, know that the crocodile will be gold, wrap around the theatre, and take multiple people to operate.
Though this is a new adaptation of Peter Pan, the spirit and heart of the original is still palpable. And of course, all the spectacle and stage magic remain: six actors will fly over the Harman stage; a real dog is playing Nana; there will be epic battles between the pirates and the Lost Boys; the crocodile puppet is not to be missed; and we are planning more special effects than any previous show at Shakespeare Theatre Company!
As Gunderson sums up: “That’s what we do in the theatre, right? We make dreams come true. We make unforgettable things real for people.”
Peter Pan and Wendy begins performances on December 3. Tickets start at $35 and are available at ShakespeareTheatre.org or by calling 202.547.1122. Recommended for audiences 5 years and older.
Set design models by Jason Sherwood.
Costume sketches by Loren Shaw.