Archive for Zac Stearn

Schoolhouse Arts Center Soars With PETER PAN

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , , on July 14, 2017 by Ringer

 

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July 2017

One of my favorite songs of all time is Liza Minnelli’s magical trademark rendition of “Never Never Land” from her Liza’s Back Live Concert CD released in 2002.  But for bits and pieces, I had never seen PETER PAN, the musical from which the song was born…that is, until now.  I’m glad to report that my first journey to Never Land was a wonderful experience.

Schoolhouse Arts Center at Sebago Lake presents PETER PAN in its full splendor through July 30th.  This is the classic tale by Sir James M. Barrie that spawned the 1954 Broadway musical that starred Mary Martin in the iconic lead role.  With music by Mark Charlap and Jule Styne and lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, this timeless tale marks the directorial debut by Zachariah Stearn, himself a Schoolhouse icon, who effectively creates a fun, exciting adventure for audience members of all ages.

The journey to Never Land begins in the nursery of the Darling home (Scene 1).  While Mr. and Mrs. Darling (Steven Koskinen and Cindy Smith) are out for the evening and the children Wendy (Ashley McBreairty), John (Reese Madarasz) and Michael (Ella Tedeschi) are asleep, Peter Pan (Kaylin Brown) makes his grand entrance in search of his shadow, with the help of his fairy, Tinkerbell.  The children are enthralled by Peter Pan who teaches them to fly and invites them to come to his home, Never Land, where he lives with the Lost Boys…and off they go.

Like Oz and Narnia, Never Land (Scene 2) is enchanting, blithe, ever-imaginative, forever young, with forests abundant in adventures.  But the Lost Boys face challenges from Tiger Lily (Emily Thompson) and her tribe of Indian Braves and Captain Hook (Steven Koskinen) and his band of Pirates.  As amazing as Never Land is, before long, the children wish to return to their home but they and the Boys are captured by Hook’s Pirates and trapped aboard the Jolly Roger (Scene 3).  With some fateful twists and climatic surprises, thanks to Peter Pan, all ends well.

The large mixed cast of 34 actors, singers and dancers is a nice representation of the Schoolhouse community talent pool that includes all ages, cross-genre roles, and all levels of experience from the newbies to seasoned pros.

Despite some tentative moments early on, the cast quickly found a creative flow that was infectious and delightful.  Clearly, Director Stearn’s vision “to create a production filled with childlike wonder and innocence, with big colorful characters,” was a message heard loud and clear.

The best moments are the larger group scenes which provide entertaining animation by actors confident in their characters.  The Pirates are visually vibrant, each with unique eccentricities that bring comic relief and joy to their scenes.  Steven Koskinen (Captain Hook) is outstanding with his expression and timing and Schoolhouse favorites Jeffrey McNally (Smee) and Jacob Clowes (Noodler) do not fail to deliver their usual high-energy top-notch game.

Other Pirates include Janet Littlefield (Cecco), Jack Lamont (Jukes), Cindy Smith (Smitty), John Littlefield (Starkey), Timothy Dwyer (Timbo) and Airin Wolf (Mullins)—all worthy players.

Emily Thompson owns the stage in her role as Tiger Lily, displaying grace and competence with her dancing skills and leading a highly-qualified tribe of Indian Braves that include Gabrielle Bouthot, Sophia Cartonio, Alexis Clement, Cara Kennedy, Pauline Kennedy, Annikka Mocciola, Meghan Reidy and Melissa Spicer.

Kaylin Brown (Peter Pan) and Ashley McBreairty (Wendy) soar in their leading roles (pardon the pun).  Both possess nicely controlled, pristine singing voices and clear diction (though a tad more projection couldn’t hurt).  They’re capable of driving their scenes with their instinctive blend of magical innocence and naïve wisdom.

The songs are stellar and well delivered by leads and chorus alike and will certainly be on the lips of audience members for days after the curtain call.  “I’ve Gotta Grow,” “I’m Flying,” “Never Never Land,” “I Won’t Grow Up,” are just a few favorites.  The music is under the capable direction of Allen Thomas.

Schoolhouse Arts Center is “old school”—literally.  It’s a charming venue with creaky wooden floors, old-fashioned bathrooms, classrooms that are now lobby space.  It is the very essence of Maine community theater with a bonus rustic feel in the heat of summer.  It might not be state-of-the-art but Schoolhouse is the ultimate “state of the heart” theater group that specializes in the process of performing arts versus the slickness of the product.

At Schoolhouse, there’s a noticeable casualness before the show begins, perhaps bursts of controlled chaos (cast members frantically searching for their props, or scooting across the stage to deliver a message, or simply appearing in full costume to say hi to their family).

Process-vs-Product— it’s a beautiful thing.   Director Stearn gets it.  Those few tentative moments in the action when actors are faced with a momentary crisis (“Am I waiting for the band or are they waiting for me?” “What should I do for these four measures?” “Oops, was I supposed to come out yet?” “Is that crocodile stuck?”) are precious and scary moments that lead to personal victory and empowerment.  Schoolhouse founders Hank and Nancy Beebe understood that philosophy and would be very proud of the PETER PAN cast and crew.

Schoolhouse’s choice to stage PETER PAN was a bold one that falls between two factors, i.e, the (left brain) funding required for aesthetic changes to the stage, liability, safety issues and equipment installation to “fly” castmembers versus the (right brain) potential payoff for having that creative wow factor of castmembers “flying.”  Cudos to the Board for the decision to “fly.”

PETER PAN runs through July 30th, Thursdays – Saturdays at 7 PM, and Sundays at 5 PM.  Schoolhouse Arts Center is located at 16 Richville Rd., Standish (near the intersection of Routes 35 and 114).  For reservations, call 207/642-3743 or visit www.schoolhousearts.org.

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–Louis Philippe

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