Tuesday, June 18, 2019

review - THE LOST BOYS OF NEVERLAND - East Valley Children's Theatre

The cast
photo courtesy East Valley Children's Theatre
by Carolyn Thomas

With an original script by a young playwright featuring yet another take on Peter Pan, I admittedly went into this production skeptical, but my expectations were pleasantly exceeded: East Valley Children's Theatre has produced an absolute treat in The Lost Boys of Neverland. Tanner Morris's script adds surprising originality to a classic tale, while the cast delivers delightful nuggets of humor and touching moments. All in all, The Lost Boys of Neverland is a smashing success with something for everyone of any age in the audience, even this jaded Millennial.

The story follows Jaime, a teenage tomboy foster kid from New York, who finds herself in Neverland by mysterious means. She joins up with the Lost Boys, who are still mourning the unexplained disappearance of Peter Pan along with their dwindling numbers. They declare Jaime their new leader and beg her to join the seemingly impossible fight against Hook and his band of pirates. While several of the plot points might feel predictable to adults in the audience, there are still many original and interesting elements of Morris's script that make it as enjoyable for the parents as it is to their children.

Playwright Tanner Morris, an alumni of East Valley Children's Theatre, won 2nd place in EVCT's 2018 Aspiring Playwrights Contest, and for good reason. The story is well-suited for the stage, but would perform equally well in book form, and has potential for even more installments. In terms of magical adventures suited to a modern audience, it evokes much of the same fantastical elements as the Percy Jackson series, which conveniently also exists in the form of books and on the stage.

The Lost Boys of Neverland features impressive performances by many cast members, and a strong ensemble. Elizabeth Schaible channels maximum angst as Jaime, expressing each tsunami of emotion from head to toe. Marco Velasquez as Slightly is dynamic and earnest, and delivers one of the most honest and convincing cries I've seen on stage. Jake Stabinsky's Cubby, in contrast, is lively and animated, his physicality knows no bounds and his humor is spot-on. When speaking to humor, it's impossible to overlook Connor Besemer as Hook and his counterpart, Tré Moore as Smee. Besemer and Moore showcase uncanny rapport and hilarious comedic timing with natural ease. Besemer's Hook commands not just the pirates, but the stage itself, while Moore's Smee is delightfully funny and flavorful, delivered with pizzazz and flair.

Charles Moore and Aidan Perkins as George and Whibbles, respectively, provide light-hearted comic relief in perfect complement to Hook and Smee. Harrison Graham bring a friendly youth-pastor-vibe to foster parent Mr. Hamilton, who struggles in figuring out how best to help his charges. Patricia Dawson gives pure sass as Allisa and comic delight as Rascal.

Karen Rolston's direction makes great use of her cast's physicality and versatility, bringing out every ounce of humor possible. Rolston's sound design is largely cohesive, though unbalanced at times. Pivotal moments of dialogue are lost to the audience due to music and fog machines competing with voices. Rolston's prop designs suit the production well, particularly the weaponry and home wares. Nathaniel White's lighting design transports the audience from the Bronx to Neverland with colorful flair, subtle and effective in just the right ways. Cori Johnson's hair and makeup brings out the essence of each character seamlessly, and complement Barbara Jackuki's costume designs. Jackuki tackles the design of Wacoma and her tribe with unique flair, deftly avoiding any of the usual stereotypes or derivatives. She creates a tribe of warrior women with vivid color and cohesive style yet unique individuality. Set design by Tiana Torrilhon is evocative, but simple and adaptable enough to move from location to location with minimal effort. Lauren Kobza's choreography is perfectly suited to her actors' abilities, though the dance numbers last a bit too long and disrupt the pace of the story in some places. Aaron Blanco's fight choreography is positively fantastic. The battle scenes are engaging and exciting, which is quite rare to find, especially in a youth production.

The Lost Boys of Neverland is a fresh and unique story with a strong cast to bring it to life. Congratulations are in order for playwright Tanner Morris, and for the creative team that provide a fun and fantastical experience fit for the whole family.

CLICK HERE for more information on this production, which runs through June 23

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