If you’ve been wondering whether your 4- or 5-year-old can sit through a live theater production, wonder no more. An all-new production of Peter Pan at the Center for Puppetry Arts is bright and breezy enough to captivate most preschoolers older than 3. One Atlanta mom who brought her 3-year-old son to a recent morning performance said that sitting still during the one-hour show was not the issue. Mostly, her young boy experienced small pangs of fear: worrying that Peter might die, or that Wendy might die, or that Captain Hook might die. Or, oh no, Tinkerbell.
The fate of Captain Hook and a certain crocodile will not be revealed here. Suffice to say that this production sticks faithfully to J.M. Barrie’s classic tale. And hold tight to something Peter says in the middle of the show: “No one stays hurt for long in Neverland.”
Under the sparkling direction of Michael Haverty, this new show is brought to life through rod puppetry performed behind a backlit scrim. Painted with an ultraviolet reactive paint, then exposed to black light, the comically adorable puppets (by Jason von Hinezmeyer), take on a fluorescent glow. Pre-filmed segments rendered in shadow puppetry add another layer. Engaging animations by Travis Overstreet are projected onto the scrim to enhance Kat Conley’s “storybook” set design. Greatest of all: Five highly versatile puppeteers – unseen behind the scrim – concoct delightfully specific personalities for the many puppets they expertly maneuver to prance, romp, and fly in the fantasy-adventure.
“I thought this was real cool, like HD puppetry, as in high definition,” says Pierre Bertrand of Stockbridge. Bertrand’s 4-year-old son Justyn “enjoyed it a lot, so we’ll definitely be back for more experiences like this.”
The audience was whisked off to Neverland with Peter, Wendy, Michael and John – and there was nary a dull moment. Everyone loved the frisky Lost Boys and the mischievous Jolly Roger pirates. One little girl cried out: “Ahh, pretty!” when the operatic mermaids appeared on Marooner’s Rock, tossing around a floaty ball. Quick gags, such as John falling out of bed, brought bursts of laughter from kids.
But Tinkerbell, a screaming-green fairy with personality, pizzazz and wings that flutter rapidly, is the puppet that captures the collective heart of her audience. Those familiar with Peter Pan know that “a fairy somewhere falls down dead every time someone says they don’t believe in fairies.” When the spunky and faithful Tinkerbell drinks the poison that Captain Hook intends for Peter, and the audience is then asked to help save Tink by clapping softly together – it’s a moment of wonder and magic that will remain a warm memory for many years to come.

– Julie Bookman

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