In the second act of Fly, the boy who never grew up stands behind Captain Hook and sings harmony to the lyrics “I am just a little boy / I never had a dad.” And suddenly the vision for a reimagined Peter Pan emerges: Dallas Theater Center’s new musical elucidates the psychology of Neverland.
Fly boasts a quick-witted book by award-winning playwright Ravjiv Joseph, modern pop rock melodies by Bill Sherman, and insightful lyrics by Kirsten Childs and Joseph. It’s the familiar story about siblings who follow Peter “second to the right, and straight on till morning” — but without the naiveté of the Disney film or Cathy Rigby stage show.
In the J.M. Barrie novel, all children are said to have their own version of Neverland. An elaborate skeleton of sticks outlines Wendy’s stark dream world, as designed by Anna Louizos. It’s large enough to serve as a backdrop for the actors soaring through the air.
Instead of a chorus, human bodies represent trees and water in an ever-changing landscape. And Hook’s trawler emerges out of the ground, with just enough of a structure to represent a galley. Even the set requires a bit of imagination.
Peter (Grant Venable) looks like a teenage rock star, a la Justin Bieber, with cargo pants and perfectly coiffed hair. He calls his group of ruffians the “lost boys crew,” and in the dance numbers they are all head snaps, side hops and shoulder rolls; choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler has assembled a mini boy band.
But this is really Wendy’s show, and girls of all ages finally get to root for her. Portrayed stunningly by an age-appropriate Isabela Moner, Wendy is on the verge of adolescence and a bit of a tomboy, always blowing things up. This play is her world, with all the trappings of pre-pubescent rebellion. She sings a song about being “grounded” and describes the adults as “stupid and mean.”
Instead of Water Lily and the maniacal, jealous mermaids, Fly introduces Mami Wata (Marcy Harriell) to the story, a dark water creature from an African tale determined to drag Wendy into the waters of adulthood — or so Peter tells her.
Mami Wata is a force to be reckoned with, her aqueous gown actually filling the vertical space of the stage — a masterful design feat. As Wendy comes to terms with Mami Wata, Harriell tempers her booming voice with a certain amount of warmth.
These scenes appear ripe for development. Wendy seems quick to shed Neverland, with Mami Wata as a sort of advocate. Her mythology aligns with the story, but she never gets cemented into the plot, despite her pivotal role in it.
Did Wendy bring her into this imaginary world? Or do the African origins of her myth and the syncopated rhythms of the drums have more to do with this new rendering of Peter Pan than has yet been revealed?
The threatening unknowns of adulthood in Wendy’s scenes with Mami Wata contrast sharply with the representations of the adults in this story, in particular the pirates. They are buffoons, escaping the responsibilities of wives and children, on a Jimmy Buffett cruise gone wrong.
Led by Captain Hook (an uproarious Bradley Dean), they are just overgrown lost boys – something director Jeffrey Seller smartly mirrors in numerous scenes. In that moment with Peter in the second act, Hook strikes chords of truth: Everyone is afraid to grow old.
Fly is the story you’ve seen before, with Tinkerbell (a hilarious Morgan Weed), the bumbling Mr. Smee and the wide-eyed boy who flies across the stage. The new moments in this musical add a layer of poignancy, but they aren’t tethered enough to the original story to add the richness they hint at. But all the magic is there.
Fly runs through August 18 at the Wyly Theatre.