The tour of Peter Pan 360, which opened Wednesday under a white big top in the Dallas Arts District, is a hot ticket because of all the technological wizardry involved.
That includes 12 projectors delivering 360-degree projection on 15,000 square feet of CGI with 10 million pixels in what’s called the largest surround CGI venue in the world.
As cool as that is, the artistic success of the show is due to something with a history that precedes CGI and digital projection by several thousand years: theatrical craft.
This includes puppetry in the Japanese bunraku style — the tick-tocking crocodile is magnificent, and the Darlings’ sheepdog, Nana, manipulated by Liam Fennecken, who also plays pirate Smee, is delightful; songs with the text, nicely sung by the actors; and direction by Thom Southerland that not only stays true to J.M. Barrie’s 1904 play about The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up (the character had been introduced earlier), but that honors both its light and darker themes.
The Threesixty Theatre, the venue where PP360 takes flight, is a circular tent with the stage in the center, so true to the 360 part of its name, it’s theater in the round.
A steel structure supports the tent from the outside, so there are no beams underneath to obstruct the flying and views. The digital sequence when Peter Pan (Dan Rosales), Tinker Bell (Jessie Sherman) and the three Darling children Wendy (Sarah Charles), John (John Alati) and Michael (Sean Burns) fly from Kensington Gardens to Neverland, with the city of London and the night sky behind the five actors hovering high above the stage, holding hands and soaring, is spectacular.
But before that, there’s a long scene in the Darling home, which sets up the relationship between the children and Mrs. Darling (Hannah Jane McMurray) and Mr. Darling (Stephen Carlile, who also plays Captain Hook, if that gives you any insight). That scene not only serves as exposition, but to remind the audience that we are seeing a play and not a mere spectacle.
To that end, the actors, even when they’re flying or doing stunts such as the Chinese Pole (choreography and movement is by Gypsy Snider, co-artistic director of French circus outfit 7 Fingers), work as an ensemble, one that listens and reacts to one another.
As director, Southerland pulls the emotional connections where necessary and also finds some terrific moments for physical humor, notably in the scenes with the Lost Boys and Hook’s band of pirates.
As Hook, Carlile finds the right balance of humor and evil without being cartoonish, and Sherman has some of the funniest moments when Tinker Bell throws tantrums. The character of Tiger Lily (Porsha Putney), a Native American princess, avoids the stereotypes that were added with the popular 1954 musical version of the story.
Peter Pan 360 is a feast to look at it, but it’s a pleasant surprise that the creators haven’t sacrificed story and text for all the bells and whistles.
The spectacle will delight kids of all ages, but for the adults who like to listen — and to be reminded of the story’s central theme of responsibility ultimately trumping childlike whimsy — it’s even more magical.