Saturday, 29 March 2008
REVIEW: "Peter Pan - El Musical"
(Apologies for the poor quality photo...the flier got rather beaten up in the RZ's pocket and he does not have the best lighting options.)
First and foremost, the RZ wishes to mention that he supports the Musicians Union vs. the producers of the West End run of Peter Pan - El Musical. There are no live musicians playing at Peter Pan, and while such practice isn’t uncommon in Spain (and 100% the norm in France where the only live music at the musicals is in the foyer), it’s not standard here in England and the Garrick is under contract to the MU.
That said, the RZ got his tickets for free this time and had few qualms about taking advantage of seeing a production he wouldn’t have been so inclined to pay for with this knowledge.
So how does this continental take on a very English classic hold up?
First and foremost, this Peter Pan is a visually attractive show. The few sets (a pair of doubling constructions), are pleasantly cartoony, especially the London bedroom where our story begins, with books piled high and one of those artificial fires you see at novelty shops. The lighting is a jewel box of colour, from the opening laser show to the final battle, and on the whole is very pretty. Asthmatics should approach with caution, though, as stage fog mania is in full force at the Garrick. On the downside, there is a dearth of flying scenes - once we reach Neverwhere there is, in fact, no flight (and the scene where they depart features painfully visible wires).
The score, despite not being live, is also quite pleasant - lots of fun, energetic theatre-pop that would make for a fun cast recording (samples are on the website), but traditionalists and fans of the Charlap and Leigh version will take issue. Unfortunately, the music does suffer from pre-recording, coming across as narrow and compressed through the speakers. In line with first preview standard, the mics were turned up too loud on some performers, and none of the vocals (which were live) ever truly blended with the scoring underneath. In what may be a first, group numbers were more evenly balanced than solos - everybody gets equally overblown in the RZ's experience. And there is, in fact, one bit of live music as the residents of Neverland’s Indian Village (in all its pre-PC glory) bang black-lit drumsticks in a percussive dance scene.
Another aural annoyance could be written off as a first preview glitch, but the RZ expects the problem to continue: Cristina Fargas wears a lovely pair of earrings as the narrator and Mrs. Darling, but they’re the dangly sort that tapped her headset mic every time she moved her head. As such, her rather nice voice was met with dread after the first number, and the problem remained all night (though she was noticeably fumbling with the earring late in the second act to try and stop it). The RZ hopes that she gets permission to go on without the dreadful things.
Miguel Antelo is an impish Peter, as childish as expected but lacking a certain charm - there’s never a doubt that Isabel Malavia’s Wendy will leave Neverland at the end (it is, after all, the preferable alternative to doing laundry for and minding a dozen Lost Boys). Miguel Gamero is maniacally over the top as Captain Hook, and Pedro Espadas lands the laughs as straight man Smee. Imma Fernández plays Lost Boy Tootles as a loveable scamp with a big belty voice, and she gets a worthy number late in the first act.
So, what we have here is a (mostly) pretty, (generally) inoffensive, and (overall) well played take on a perennial favourite. The question left to address is whether or not this Peter Pan really is something for London Families sick of Disney to enjoy in the West End.
In the RZ’s opinion? Probably not, and it’s for the show’s selling point as much as any of the other issues responsible: without a reminder of the plot details beforehand, young children will have difficulty following the details of a surtitled production - especially one as shoddily titled as this one.
Again, the RZ hopes that he merely had to suffer first preview tech issues, but the surtitle display was insanely problematic and unprofessional. Lines were oversimplified or frequently missing in part or whole (a scene where Captain Hook verbally spars with his pirates went entirely untranslated), and when there was a translation it ran anywhere from one to multiple lines behind what was happening on stage. There’s enough visual clues to piece together the metaplot, but the details are lost.
Also, as previously mentioned, this Peter Pan does maintain the Native American stereotypes of Barrie’s original, and the more culturally sensitive may have issues with it. That said, the RZ grew up before the politically correct movement and enjoyed the relevant scenes as a product of their era (as did his companion, a Bangalore native).
When all is said and done, though, Peter Pan - El Musical is a pantomime without the callbacks (although the infamous “save Tinkerbell” scene is preserved) or the anarchy (the women playing Lost Boys provide the cross-dressing). It’s bright, simple and fun, yet in the end it's an entirely forgettable evening. There are worse options available, but there are others which are far, far better.
Where: Garrick Theatre
When: Until 27 April. M, W-Sa @ 19:30, W/Sa @ 15:00, Su @ 16:00
How Much: £20-£45
Concessions: Registered Spanish students can advance book for £30. Best available day seats for other students and seniors for £20.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £12.50. No live music shifts the scale to 50% of top ticket at the high end of the scale. This is a fun but mediocre show.
RZ Other Notes: Patrons sitting in the front stalls should bring earplugs, though he has been told that levels are better in the circles. If Peter Pan sells well in spite of its problems, perhaps we could get surtitled Elisabeth when the new German tour comes to an end...or maybe hell will freeze over first.