John Ellingson

Growing up, up, and away

With its fresh book and music, NW Children's Theater's "Peter Pan" flies into a happy place for young audiences and their grownups, too

This is probably not the first time you have heard of Peter Pan, the boy who refused to grow up. It might not be the first time you will see his tale on stage. In fact, it might not be the first Northwest Children’s Theatre production of it, since it’s somewhat of a flagship for the 25-year-old theater company.

In fact, this is the seventh time the company’s mounted Peter Pan over the years, including this same adaptation – a NWCT commission – in 2012 and its followup in 2013. The good news is that the children in your life have likely not seen as many productions of Peter Pan as you have, and the universal story’s magic and wonder will win them over. The other boon for the grownups in the audience is that even if you have seen another Peter Pan (or several), this one has plenty to offer.

Grace Malloy as Wendy and Peter Thompson as Peter Pan. Photo © David Kinder 2018

For starters, it’s a new adaptation – both book (Milo Mowery) and music (Rodolfo Ortega) – that you haven’t seen if you didn’t catch the 2013 production. The songs are catchy and performed well by all in this cast. And the script is terrific, ratcheting up the preposterousness of Captain Hook and his pirates so kids are still a little scared – but most of the squeals are from delight.

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Cat in the Hat for President!

NW Children's Theater opens its season with a sassy Seuss favorite, plus a pop-rock musical about the presidents in all their semi-glory

“Just START, already!” the young lady seated next to me, possibly five years old, sighed impatiently. Unfortunately she still had a ten-minute wait until 1 o’clock showtime, a lag that she and her friend – or possibly sister – filled partly by doing counting games: a hopscotch-rhythm advance by ones up to fifty, with a slight pause as each “zero” landmark was achieved, then starting over at one and climbing up the ladder again. It seemed certain she could have kept going to sixty and seventy and beyond, but games have rules, and that’s not how this game worked.

When a kid’s come all the way to a theater and wedged through a notably hyperactive crowd just to see The Cat in the Hat, any delay can be excruciating. Fortunately, when Dr. Seuss’s famously flamboyant Cat eventually showed up in the lanky form of actor John Ellingson, he did so with an emphatic splat. This production, at Northwest Children’s Theater & School, is bright and giddy and tautly wound like an old-time cartoon, an effect amplified by Rodolfo Ortega’s bouncy silent-movie-like score and Jake Newcomb’s whiz-bang sound design.

John Ellingson as the Cat in the Hat, Jenny Bunce (and hand puppet) as the Fish. Photo: ©2016 Pat Moran

John Ellingson as the Cat in the Hat, Jenny Bunce (and hand puppet) as the Fish. Photo: ©2016 Pat Moran

Katie Mitchell’s adaptation, produced originally by the National Theatre of Great Britain, is pretty much a three-D amplification of the book itself, which is a good thing, because most of the audience knew the words by heart, and there’s no sense in fiddling with either words or hearts. The set (by Ellingson) looks like the house in the book, the costumes (by Nancy Christy) look very much like the costumes in the book, and the characters – Harper Lea as the Boy and Gracie Jacobson as Sally, the befuddled kids home alone while their mom’s out; Jenny Bunce as a very funny and exasperated pet Fish (she does the talking; her hand puppet does the swimming); Snigdha Malladi and Hallie Bartell as Thing 1 and Thing 2, the Cat’s kittenish partners in mayhem – are the very characters from the book, doing the very things the characters in the book do. In short, there’s something pleasingly ritualistic about the whole enterprise: It is what it is, and what it is is what it’s supposed to be.

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