Ryan Scott Ottney
PDT Staff Writer
Students from the Portsmouth West High School Vocal Music Department are taking a field trip to Never Never Land, for a stage performance of “Peter Pan” at the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth.
The story is about the mischievous Peter Pan of Neverland, and his gang the Lost Boys, who never age and never grow up.
Created by J.M. Barrie, the character Peter Pan first appeared in Barrie’s novel, “The Little White Bird” in 1902. Two years later the character was brought to life on stage in Barrie’s play “Peter Pan” — also called “The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up.” In 1906 his adventures from “The Little White Bird” were republished in his first solo title, “Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.” The popular story known by all today was published 1911 as “Peter and Wendy,” which is now titled simply “Peter Pan.”
The character made his film debut with a silent movie in 1924, followed by an animated Disney movie in 1954. That same year Peter Pan appeared on Broadway, starring Mary Martin as the young boy Peter Pan. She was later replaced by Sandy Duncan, and then by Cathy Rigby who remained in the role through its 1999 Broadway Revival.
“There are many great musicals. There are only several that are appropriate for high school, and we have done most of them,” said West Vocal Music Director Linda Tieman. “We knew that we would have a good cast for this when we chose this last year. It’s also an anniversary for Peter Pan. It’s Cathy Rigby’s last tour, so it’s all meshing together. We actually went to Cincinnati and saw Cathy Rigby’s show.”
Keeping in Broadway’s female tradition of Duncan and Rigby, Portsmouth West senior Billie Curtis is performing the role of Peter Pan on stage, and several feet above it. The West Vocal Music Department has brought in ZFX Flying Company, from Louisville, Ky., to sprinkle fairy dust and help Peter fly across the stage.
“Some moves are complicated,” Tieman said. “He (Flight Choreographer Dan Kondas) is going to have her (Curtis) walking up Hook’s sword in a fight scene. To pinpoint her on his sword and then up his shoulder, it’s not an easy task.”
She said the West Vocal Music Department performed “Peter Pan” on stage with a different flying company 15 years ago, but ZFX is one of the best in its field and flying equipment has come a long way.
“The last time we couldn’t flip. We couldn’t do anything except like a pendulum effect with Peter. This year she’s actually doing some acrobatics in the air,” Tieman said. “We took her to Louisville, where the flight company is, and they trained her in what they call the world’s largest green screen. It was really cool, because the whole wall is green and movie companies come in and film movie sequences there.”
The flying apparatus is extremely uncomfortable, Tieman said, and would be very difficult and painful for boys to wear. Even Curtis had trouble getting used to it wrapped around her waist and legs.
“It is kind of nerve-wracking, but at the same time the fun kind of outweighs it. Not a lot of people can say they have flown in a musical,” she said. “It’s weird but it’s nice not to have to be in control of where I go, sometimes.”
This isn’t her first flight, either. Curtis has performed gymnastics at Cirque d’Arte in Portsmouth, and she was a flying monkey in the West Vocal Music Department’s performance of Wizard of Oz. She said “Peter Pan” is one of the best shows the Vocal Music Department has ever done.
Dan Kondas, from ZFX, is training a crew of rope-handlers to lift Curtis into the air and swing her across the stage. Kondas has choreographed flights for stage performances of all sizes, including the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada. He said he has choreographed “Peter Pan” many times, but always tries to bring something new and different to every performance.
“Every time I do Peter Pan it’s a collaboration. It’s a collaboration between what works well for the performer and what works well for the space and what the director likes. It’s always a collaboration between five or six people to try to make it exactly what it should be,” Kondas said.
West Vocal Music Department performs “Peter Pan” at the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts at Shawnee State University, in Portsmouth, at 7:30 p.m. on May 10-11, and 2:30 p.m. on May 12. There will also be a special recognition for mother’s day during the show. Tickets are available at the McKinley Box Office at the VRCFA; $12 for adults and $8 for students. Tickets are also available at all Ticketmaster locations and ticketmaster.com.
Ryan Scott Ottney may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 287, or firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking news, follow Ryan on Twitter @PDTwriter.