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Valley Youth Theatre’s ‘Peter Pan’ flies high at the Herberger on opening night

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Featuring truly amazing flying effects, courtesy of ZFX Inc, “Peter Pan” opened Friday night, June 13, at the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix and runs through Sunday, June 29. The play, which is the original Broadway musical version, is presented by Valley Youth Theatre by special arrangement with Music Theatre International.

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The classic fairy tale tells the story of the Darling family, a boy named Peter Pan (who never wants to grow up), his fairy friend, Tinker Bell, his gang of Lost Boys on Neverland and his archenemy, Captain Hook.

In VYT’s production, Hannah Blaile is an engaging, energetic Peter Pan. When she sings, “I’m Flying” and soars into the air, we in the audience are amazed. And when she sprinkles fairy dust on the Darling children and teaches them to fly, we wish we could ask for some of that dust. A recent graduate of Arizona School for the Arts, Blaile has appeared as Owl in “Winnie-the-Pooh Christmas Tail” and Charlotte in “Charlotte’s Web” at VYT, as well as in supporting roles in “Annie,” “The Wiz” and “Legally Blonde.”

And who knew Captain Hook and his pirates could be singing, dancing comics? On Friday night, they elicited much laughter, applause and cheering. Kudos to Connor Baker for his portrayal of the captain who lost his hand to Peter Pan. Incidentally, he does a mean tango. Baker is a junior at Arizona School for the Arts and has also appeared as the Woodsman in “Snow White,” King Maximillian in “Princess and the Pea,” Wickerham in “Seussical” and Big Bad Wolf in “Shrek” at VYT. Another stage credit is Don Kerr in “A Chorus Line” at Spotlight Youth Theatre in Glendale, Ariz.

Caroline Wells makes a lovely Wendy Darling, who not only learns to fly but also becomes the mother to Peter’s Lost Boys. Wells, who is a junior at Desert Vista High School, appeared as Kanga in “Winnie-the-Pooh Christmas Tail” and was an ensemble player in “Seussical” and “Shrek” at VYT. She also played Gertrude in “Seussical Jr.” at Desert Stages Theatre, Scuttle in “Little Mermaid Jr.” at Greasepaint Youtheatre and Belle in “Beauty and the Beast Jr.” at Christian Youth Theater.

Teaching some three dozen young cast members to sing and dance together sounds like a daunting task, but choreographer Katie Casey was up to the challenge, whether it be for Peter and the Lost Boys, Captain Hook and his pirates or any of the other characters. Casey also choreographed the show when VYT produced it in 2009, and she herself played Peter Pan in VYT’s 2000 production.

The enchanting sets that take the audience from the Darling home to Neverland and back, with a stop on Captain Hook’s pirate ship, are provided by FCLO Music Theatre.

Costume designer Karol Cooper has come up with interesting costumers for a wide range of characters, from the elegant Mrs. Darling to the ragtag Lost Boys to the iconic Peter Pan and Captain Hook. And those are only the humans. Especially fun were the costumes of Nana the dog, played by Alex Partida, who woofs in vain trying to protect the Darling children from Peter Pan, and the crocodile, played by Brennan Metcalfe, who tools across the stage on his stomach.

That said, the dialogue was occasionally hard to understand, possibly because the actors often spoke very fast. And a slight glitch occurred in one scene, where the costume of Liza, the family’s maid, seemed to be coming apart and trailing some material. Liza, played by Ally Lansdowne, adroitly maneuvered through the rest of the scene without tripping.

But overall, a fun evening and a great performance by the Phoenix area’s young actors.

Tickets can be purchased online or by calling the Herberger Theater Center box office at (602) 252.8497. The Herberger Theater Center is located at 222 E. Monroe St. in Phoenix.

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