Peter Pan The Musical” was created in Italy in 2006 by Director Maurizio Colombi, based on the original play by JM Barrie with a soundtrack arranged by Edoardo Bennato, and presented in the Royal Opera House Muscat – in English (though they worked hard to improve their strong Italian accents!) Bennato is a renowned Blues and Rock’n Roll singer-songwriter in Italy, and his contemporary styles of music influenced the show’s eclectic score. It was hard to decipher which songs were from Charlap’s original 1955 Broadway Musical and were composed for this production, but in the end it didn’t matter. This 2017 revival was presented by Teatro delle Erbe for two evening performances last weekend and one matinee – especially for children.
The curtain rose on a London Park with a Clown telling eager children how it is possible to fly – through the story of Peter Pan. Bizarrely, the parents, worried for their children’s safety, sang the opening Opera pastiche, beautifully harmonised, in Italian! Some clever special effects – a nostalgic film of Big Ben and the London skyline projected on a full screen – transformed the narrative to the nursery at the Darling home, and the plot continued, faithful to the book. Three children dressed in nightgowns are bouncing on their beds playing ‘Peter Pan’ as the spectacle unfolds. Nearly all the cast are in their 30s. Child prodigy Martha Rossi as Wendy looked every inch the part, with her blond hair tied in a big bow and pretty face, but her singing was more Pop than Musicals, and perhaps not to everyone’s taste. 25-year-old Sicilian, Giuseppe Brancato played the bespectacled older brother, John Darling, complete with top hat and umbrella in a parody of an English gentleman. The diminutive yet energetic Sardinian-born Daniela Lidia Simula sustained the role of a tumbling young Michael with youthful vigour and a high-pitched voice – which eventually became irritating. Ilaria Fioravanti as Mrs Darling portrayed an elegant and loving mother, but was instantly upstaged by Monkey-Nana (she is a large dog in the original) endearingly inhabited by a be-costumed Alfonso Capalbo.
The very talented 46-year-old Neapolitan, Pietro Pignatelli, performed the dual-roles of ‘the practical and sometimes stern Mr Darling’, a bumbling, self-conscious father, and later the scheming Captain Hook. Pignatelli possesses a beautiful singing voice: warm and rich as Mr.D and elastically Rock and Roll as Hook. His entrance on the Pirate Ship with his henchmen was deliciously camp and slick. He presented a compelling blend of Freddie Mercury and Elvis, endowed with Johnny Depp’s good looks in ‘Captain Hook’s Rock’. His English diction, especially in the songs, was hard to grasp without subtitles at times, but it almost made it funnier and more burlesque. Pirates reappeared, complete with glitzy-bling to perform an hilarious spoof of a mop-dance, in true Cabaret style.
Back in the nursery Giorgio Camandona in the title role made his appearance in the only way possible: dressed in green and bounding about like an oversized pixie. The chief effect of the night allowed him – and his three new friends – to fly in suspended disbelief, with the help of cleverly placed trapezes, choreographed especially by Gabriella Crosignani. He was accompanied by another special effect, his fairy Tinkerbell who was played by a cute green laser-beam and tinkley-bell voice. Genoa-born Camandona played ‘the boy who wouldn’t grow up’ with agility and panache, helped by his boyish good looks and enriched by his lyrical, captivating singing voice in the moving ‘Tinkerbell’, sung with tender emotion to his dying fairy.
Another brilliant projection allowed the four to fly across a starry sky above the clouds to Neverland. The scenery and stage effects were excellent, allowing childish fantasy and imagination to take flight as sets changed in front of viewers’ eyes. There were elements of pantomime as well as slapstick humour in the mix – Captain Hook encouraged audience applause, Mr Smee explained that Hook freezes every time ‘Crocodile’ is mentioned (though the ticking crocodile himself did not make an appearance) and ‘we still have a whole second Act to perform’.
Act 2 revealed the magical forest shrouded in dry-ice where the five Lost (orphan) Boys live a utopian existence without school, rules or a mother. An unforgettable scene beside a totem-pole unfolded, with Red Indians dancing an ethnically caricatured drum-routine while singing ‘Unga, Ugga-Wug’ tribal-speak, brilliantly choreographed by Rita Pivano. Tiger Lily was the only character with an English accent, played by Russian-born Angelina Roz with lively conviction and zest, while Jacopo Pelliccia as Mr Smee was appropriately portly, bungling and jovial.
The show was accompanied throughout by a 33-strong Czech orchestra in the pit conducted by Maestro, Massimo Gauntini. Alongside, Musical Supervisor Davide Magnabosco led the 6-piece Band, comprising tenor sax, (Cesare Ceo) guitars, bass (Zaccaro), and drum (Polifrone) from the keyboard. ‘Peter Pan the Musical’ lasted a whopping two and a half hours with interval, yet the children watching were transfixed, captivated and enchanted throughout by the magic and charm of the production – and they, after all, are the best judges.
Written by GEORGINA Benison
Photos by Khalid al Busaidi