New ‘Peter Pan’ doesn’t take off 

The first flying scene is pure magic. When the title character of “Peter Pan” joins hands with Tinkerbell and the Darling children and rises from the stage, their vertiginous flight over London is nothing short of breathtaking.

In that episode, and several airborne scenes to follow, it’s easy to love the ThreeSixty Theatre production of J.M. Barrie’s classic that opened Sunday at The City’s Ferry Park.

Elsewhere, though, this long-awaited British import — adapted from Barrie’s original play by Tanya Ronder, designed by William Dudley and directed by Ben Harrison — remains disappointingly earthbound.

The venue for this “Peter Pan” promises a very different kind of show than previous theatrical versions. The 100-foot-tall tent created for the production seats 1,350 in the round, and the circular stage — fitted with trap doors for entrances and exits — accommodates the transitions from the Darling nursery to Neverland and the pirate ship with ease.

But it’s what happens above the stage that counts. Dudley’s CGI projections ring the tent with a series of vividly colored kinetic environs — jungle scenes, underwater seascapes and those amazingly detailed aerial views — and above that is a rigging platform that allows the actors to fly in and out. The visuals, for the most part, are stunning.

Yet, there’s something lacking in the 2 hour 20 minute (with one intermission) show. 

The cast, headed by Nate Fallows as Peter, is generally energetic, and the early scenes in the Darling household are engaging. Once the action moves to Neverland, though, the pacing of Harrison’s staging starts to sag. 

The Lost Boys and pirates fail to emerge as distinct characters. Even the traditionally larger-than-life Capt. Hook (Jonathan Hyde, who also plays Mr. Darling) seems devoid of villainous charm. 

Despite a few likeable songs, Benjamin Wallfisch’s score is largely undistinguished.

Ronder’s adaptation has an oddly detached feel, one that doesn’t quite marry the technical elements to the human ones. We never feel the central conflict — whether Peter will remain a boy or join the adult world — with much impact. The result is a spectacle of effects, with no emotional heart.

There are winning performances in the large cast. Among the principals, Fallows’ leggy Peter is strong, as is Itxaso Moreno, who plays Tinkerbell as a tough little tomboy in a grungy pink tutu. Abby Ford makes an aptly vulnerable Wendy, and David Poynor (Michael) and Arthur Wilson (John) hold their own as the Darling boys.

Shannon Warrick’s tender Mrs. Darling, Antony Strachan’s affable Smee and Heidi Buehler’s agile Tiger Lily make fine contributions. The use of puppets in animal roles — as birds, the beloved dog Nana and a rapacious Crocodile — is delightful.
And, of course, those flying scenes are spectacular.

With its high-tech elements, the production tries very hard to be a “Peter Pan” for the 21st century; it just isn’t one for the ages.

IF YOU GO

Peter Pan

Where: Ferry Park on The Embarcadero, opposite the Ferry Building, San Francisco
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2 p.m. Wednesdays, 7:30 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 5 p.m. Sundays
Tickets: $30 to $85
Contact: (888) 772-6849, www.peterpantheshow.com

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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