This big-top spectacle version of Barrie’s tale, intended for a family audience, offers technical thrills but falls a bit short in the storytelling. The production, which was developed and first seen in London in 2009 and made its U.S. debut last year in San Francisco, is presented in the round in a tent designed to serve as both shelter and canvas; the ceiling surface doubles as a 360-degree projection screen for computer animated scenery designed by William Dudley.
In the show’s first big flying sequence, when Peter, Tinkerbell and the three Darling children take off and soar as an animated London rushes past on the screens, this bit of wizardry feels like a transporting innovation; the whole endeavor seems worth it for this one extended moment. It had better—disappointingly, the projections once in Neverland are just shimmering backdrops. The flying mechanisms are impressive, and other visual elements, such as mermaids “swimming” on aerial silks and a giant, two-man crocodile puppet with a spine made of wooden coat hangers, are cleverly devised.
Performed by an attractive cast of British and American actors (including several Chicago locals), this Peter Pan is often engaging in an adventure-story groove. But its vignette-style set pieces—Tiger Lily’s dance for Peter, John and Michael’s encounter with the mermaids—feel like unconnected points on a map. And neither Ronder’s script nor Ciaran Joyce’s performance as Peter demonstrate the magnetism and charm that would compel Wendy and her brothers to follow him out the window and straight on till morning.