Special effects don’t hide classic story 

“Peter Pan” producer Charlie Burnell is happy to discuss whether or not the extensive use of technology overwhelms the beloved story in the big tent production that’s been a big hit in London.

Burnell and Matthew Churchill originated and co-produced the razzle-dazzle production, which opens in previews Tuesday in a newly constructed 100-foot high, double-domed tent-type structure on San Francisco’s Embarcadero near the Ferry Building.

Even though the production boasts the first-of-its-kind 360-degree CGI projection consisting of overlapping images from 12 projectors, Burnell says the show’s creators believe, “It’s absolutely vital to be faithful to the original.”

He refers to J. M. Barrie’s 1904 play, the subject of a century of worldwide fame, including a 1953 Disney animated film and many theater and TV productions.

Given the high-tech aspects of the successful London run of the production, which mixes live action with the video projection, Burnell admits  it’s tempting “to overdo, to go maniac with CGI.”

Computer Generated Imagery is at the core of the action, which is  performed by 22 actors and also features puppets in filmed and live flying sequences.

Surrounded by 15,000 square feet of high-resolution video, will Peter, Wendy, Hook, et al still command the scene?

“The story is the thing,” and Barrie’s work is being honored in the show, Burnell says. The San Francisco opening coincides with the author’s 150th birthday (Sir James Matthew Barrie was born May 9, 1860 and died in 1937).

In addition, copyright payments for this and all “Peter Pan” productions go to the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, London, the beneficiary of Barrie’s will.

Peter’s childhood adventures on the island of Neverland, as the leader of the Lost Boys — along with mermaids, Indians, fairies and pirates — make up a story loved by young and old, Burnell says.

The boy who can fly and the idea of “visual literature” are well served by CGI, which allows the story to be taken even farther than it’s gone in previous types of productions.

After last year’s world premiere in Kensington Gardens (where Barrie was inspired to write the story), the producers visited several American cities and quickly settled on San Francisco as the place for the U.S. premiere.

“The City won our hearts,” says Burnell. “It’s both culturally literate and leading the world in technology.” Some of the show’s CGI renderings were created here.

Part of the theater-in-the-round presentation is a “100 Years of Peter Pan” exhibit on site, as well as a behind-the-scenes “Into Neverland” tour.


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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Staff Report

Staff Report

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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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