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28 Aug 2019

High-Flying Show: The Palm Canyon Theatre Kicks Off Its New Season With 'Peter Pan'

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Paul Grant and Kellee McQuinn in Palm Canyon Theatre’s production of Peter Pan. Paul Grant and Kellee McQuinn in Palm Canyon Theatre’s production of Peter Pan. Paul Hayashi

“It’s a super-big challenge to fly.”

That the reason it’s taken more than 20 years for the Palm Canyon Theatre to put on the popular musical Peter Pan—but the venerable downtown Palm Springs theater will launch its new season with a production of the classic musical, on Friday, Sept. 20.

Paul Grant, who will play Captain Hook, discussed the show inside the spacious Palm Canyon Theatre auditorium on the northern side of downtown Palm Springs. Songs and dancing and costumes and scenery are all fine and dandy, Grant said, but to really get Peter Pan off the ground … you have to really get Peter Pan—not to mention Wendy, Michael and John Darling—off the ground, to make their way to Neverland. To replicate the show’s signature theatrical effect that sends multiple actors aloft, Grant said, “You have to hire Foy”—the company started by Peter Foy, the designer of the flight systems from the original production, which have been used in nearly every production since.

“It’s very expensive,” Grant said. “They’ve wanted to do it for a long time, but kept pushing it off” due to the significant cost—up to $10,000 for a two-week run, depending on the package, according to information from the Flying by Foy website. But the theater “had a good year this past year, so they’re in a better position, and they wanted to bring (the idea) back to life,” Grant said.

Peter Pan was a great fit for the season-opener, because the Palm Canyon Theatre operates a Kids’ Camp for six weeks every summer.

“We wanted to do a show coming out of the summer that was inclusive of the kids,” Grant said. And what better choice than a beloved musical about a boy who won’t grow up?

J.M. Barrie’s play Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up, debuted in 1904, and has been staged in a variety of forms ever since. After the popular 1953 Disney animated film, the 1954 stage musical adaptation, starring Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard, enjoyed a sold-out limited Broadway run. Peter Pan solidified its place in theatrical canon through subsequent televised re-stagings on NBC, in 1955 and 1956—as well as a 1960 standalone special that most people know today, thanks to numerous rebroadcasts and a home-video release. In 2014, NBC broadcast Peter Pan Live!, a new, slightly rewritten production with additional songs that starred Allison Williams and Christopher Walken.

Peter Pan is one of few American productions with roots in the traditions of pantomime, a style of family-friendly musical comedy developed in England with roots in 16th century Italian commedia dell’arte. Conventions of pantomime include song, dance, gags, slapstick comedy and cross-dressing lead characters—with, in the case of Peter Pan, the mischievous hero played by a young woman in men’s clothing. Kellee McQuinn takes on the title role in this production.

Grant plays the more-earthbound role of Captain Hook, a pirate with a bone to pick with Peter, because the boy cut off his hand and fed it to a crocodile—whose ravenous appetite for the remainder of Captain Hook makes it a constant, unnerving reptilian presence. Hook is “evil but fun,” said Grant, who also plays the Darlings’ initially imperious father. The dual casting is traditional, and not accidental. Grant offered a casual theory: Though the story is about a boy who won’t grow up, several other characters do grow over the course of the play, especially Wendy, the eldest Darling child—but so does her father, who at the end is a far more patient and gracious figure.

“The experience of traveling through their children’s fantasy has changed the way that he responds to them,” Grant suggested. However, Grant emphasized that, as of the interview, rehearsals had yet to begin for the specific production.

“In the end,” Grant said, “the actor is just a color. The director is the painter.” Longtime Palm Canyon Theatre principal Se Layne will direct and choreograph.

Peter Pan will be performed at 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Sept. 20, through Sunday, Sept. 29, at the Palm Canyon Theatre, 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $32 to $36, with discounts. For tickets or more information, call 760-323-5123, or visit www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

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