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'Peter Pan' ready to fly at Eastlight Theatre

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Growing up, there is one story book that was considered a must-read and probably still is. That is the J.M. Barrie novel, “Peter Pan.” It was one of those books that kids of all ages would read and imagine being transported to Neverland for the next adventure.

Now, Eastlight Theatre is bringing the musical version of the Barrie novel to life on its stage at East Peoria High School, a chance for families to see Peter and his friends and foes come to life.

“Peter Pan” opens Friday at 7:30 p.m. for a seven-show run.

“I love the story of Peter Pan and Tinkerbell and the Lost Boys – all of it,” said Kenny Kendall, who is making his Eastlight directorial debut with this show. “I am a fight choreographer, so naturally I am drawn to Hook and the pirates and the fights. We’re having a lot of fun with it.”

Kendall is a professor of theatre at Lincoln College who has acted professionally. He hopes this will be only the first show he directs in the Peoria region. His wife, Stephanie Myre, has performed twice at Eastlight (as the title character in “Mary Poppins” and as Eponine in “Les Miserables” in 2013) and at Corn Stock Theatre’s Winter Playhouse.

Kendall said that although there are several versions of Peter Pan existing in film, it is the originally J.M. Barrie classic he prefers. “It is not a dark script, but it does have a little bit more of the dark side in it, with Peter’s struggles while growing up and with Hook and his pirates. But is it still very family friendly. My wife and I are foster parents to a 2½-year-old boy and I wanted to do a show I knew he could really get into and understand. And he does. He loves it,” Kendall said before a recent rehearsal.

“Peter Pan” tells the story of Peter, the boy who can fly and never grows up, and his impish sidekick Tinkerbell, who visit the Darling children in their home one night and sprinkle them with pixie dust. That starts their magical journey, an adventure that brings them to Neverland and the fierce pirate, Captain Hook and his men. Along the way they meet up with Peter’s gang, the Lost Boys, who join the journey.

Yes, Peter and the Darling children will fly in the Eastlight version, Kendall said. “Why, of course they will. It wouldn’t really be Peter Pan otherwise,” he said.

Peter is portrayed by Rose Blume, making her Eastlight debut after performing in other area theaters. As the role calls for a young, petite lass, Blume fits the size bill. But her voice more than fits the talent requirement and her acting, Kendall said, “has exceeded all of expectations, especially by her ability to grow with each rehearsal. She has taken my teaching and run with it.”

Veteran community theatre performer Mike Reams is Captain Hook. “Mike is the consummate professional, not only with his gravitas as Hook but also with his wonderful sense of comedic timing. He is so much fun to watch,” Kendall said.

Other characters and actors include Erin Hawkes as Mrs. Darling; Rachel Kocher as Wendy; Cole Rich as John Darlingl Chancellor Davis and Michael Darling, Kevin Paul Wickart as Smee, Piper Simpson as Nana and Cros, and Kelleen Nitsch as Grown-Up Wendy.

He praised the children portraying the Lost Boys as “just so danged cute” and added “they are so rambunctious it just blows me away. The men playing the pirates “walk a fine line between being funny and slightly dangerous.”

As for the portrayal of Tinkerbell, well… “Let’s just say we have some other things we plan to wow people with. There is some magic in this show for all ages,” Kendall said.

Diedre Kaiser directed the music, which for the performances will be done with Orchextra, the computerized accompaniment. Ed Macmurdo, who directs the live action shows done at the Abraham Lincoln Museum in Springfield, choreographed the show. It is the third time he has done the choreography for a production of “Peter Pan.”

Kendall said his directing strengthss are musicals and Shakespeare and he hopes to do some of each here in the future. One reason is the caliber of performers he has found on community theatres stages in the Peoria area. “There is an energy to the performers here that is refreshing. People are warm and compassionate and man, are they ready to work,” he said.

Show times for “Peter Pan” are 7:30 p.m. each day except for the 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, Sept. 20.

Tickets are $19 and can be purchased online at tickets.eastlighttheatre,com or at the door starting one hour before each performance.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).