When we first meet Peter Pan, he’s dressed in a black hooded cloak visiting the grave of his beloved sister Tinkerbell. But the mournful mood doesn’t last. Peter soon learns that the girl lives on as a mischievous fairy, and high-flying adventures ensue. This opening sets the tone for “The Adventures of Peter Pan,” Synetic Theater’s adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s beloved play and novel. Theirs is a darkish mix of humor, fun, danger and adventure.
Synetic is celebrated for silent, movement-based interpretations of classics ranging from Shakespeare to Oscar Wilde. Their productions showcase the company’s innovative staging and flashes of inspired, kinetic choreography. Directed and choreographed by company founders Paata Tsikurishvili and Irina Tsikurishvili, respectively, Synetic’s “Peter Pan” isn’t silent. In fact, there’s lots of dialogue and breakout dance numbers in addition to the usual movement-based storytelling. It’s a bit of a departure from the company’s more tried-and-true formula.
Adapted by Ed Monk, the script follows the familiar story line. Searching for his shadow, Peter (Alex Mills) meets the Darling children, Wendy (Kathy Gordon), John (Thomas Beheler) and Michael (Scott Whalen). Peter teaches them to fly and they accompany him back to Neverland where they join the lost kids, a band of fun loving orphaned children (all played by adult actors) dedicated to never growing up and battling a crew of pirates headed by vainglorious Captain Hook.
The magic and suspension of belief central to the Peter Pan story lends itself to some incredible staging including flying in a starry night sky and swimming with mermaids in blue, wavy water. These scenes are highlights. Another highlight are the paired, highly acrobatic movement sequences between Mills’ Peter Pan and Zana Gankhuyag, an elegant, athletic dancer who plays Peter’s shadow.
Charismatic out actor Alex Mills anchors the production. Mills has the skills of a gymnast and the acting chops to create a boyish, but nuanced take on the title character. Mills’ career includes many Synetic productions as well as work in numerous straight plays. He played the part of Alan, the young gay model in Michael Kahn’s production of “Torch Song Trilogy” at Studio Theatre several seasons ago.
Ryan Sellers’ Captain Hook is wonderfully self-important. With long hair and head scarf, Sellers gives a visual nod to Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow from the “Pirates of Caribbean” franchise. And the big-bellied Smee (Nathan Weinberger who is hiding an exercise ball beneath his horizontally striped pirate shirt) is amusing as Hook’s fawning flack who’d fit well in contemporary politics.
Gordon gives an appealing performance as Wendy, the young girl who temporarily acts as mother figure for the lost kids before returning to her own mother at home. And as mute Tinkerbell, Ana Tsikurishvili is a delightful whirling dervish of naughty antics. Her enchanting fairy tutu is magically lit by costume designer Kendra Rai.
Daniel Pinha’s set is like a fun playground: two big moving parts that convert from rocky perches for the lost kids to a realistic pirate ship. Together Mary Keegan’s lighting and resident composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze’s music create a faraway, moody atmosphere.
Despite its darker elements, the 100-minute show is suitable for kids. At a recent matinee the audience (ages 8-80) was pretty much rapt.