News Column

Moonlight Musicals uses Flying by Foy for 'Peter Pan' safety and fun

June 20, 2013

YellowBrix

June 20--James Bush is certain that he was chosen to direct the current outdoor musical production of "Peter Pan" because Moonlight Musicals producer Gerald Dolter knew he had past experience with the show.

However, the Pan that Bush had directed, helping a friend with a dissertation project, was very different.

He was working with the 1950 Leonard Bernstein version, which earlier lured Boris Karloff to Broadway to play Captain Hook and had only five songs.

This year's Moonlight Music is a different animal, and a far bigger challenge.

For example, Bush has a cast of 60, some younger performers in need of "kid wranglers backstage," in a musical with approximately 20 songs. It is the "Peter Pan" that has seen Mary Martin, Sandy Duncan and Cathy Rigby play the title role on Broadway.

(Thanks to Celebrity Attractions, Lubbock was one of the stops on Cathy Rigby's Pan musical tour that continued directly toward her Broadway debut. She was a delight as Pan.)

Pan is, of course, J.M. Barrie's character, a boy who refuses to grow up. Pan always has been played by a woman. In fact, Bush has double-cast the role, introducing high school student Rachel Biggs and Texas Tech graduate student Sarah Mondle to alternate playing the role.

The play opens with Pan, despite being scolded by a fairy named Tinkerbell, looking for a lost shadow.

Eventually, he convinces a girl named Wendy to come with him to Neverland and become a temporary story-telling mother to the Lost Boys, at least when they are not interacting with Indians or fighting pirates led by Captain Hook and his first mate, Smee.

Bush double-cast the title role because, "It can be exhausting, with all the flying in the show. Plus, they are expected to sing and dance at the same time."

His main objective, however, "was to find someone I could believe in, someone with a bit of fantasy and also a cocky attitude who is convinced that she will never grow up."

He previously had worked with Biggs in a production of "Pinocchio."

"I remembered her work ethic and attitude," said Bush. "I hoped I could find a good role for her, but believe me, she deserves this role. She is totally endearing."

Bush said, "Sarah brings more brass to the part"

He interrupts himself and states, "OK, here is what I do. I let my musical director hold his auditions first. Then he will tell me which people can play which roles.

"As for me, I'm looking for actors who have the ability to be truthful in an imaginary circumstance. But I would never cast even the best actor if he could not sing a note."

Bush became excited when Moonlight Musicals agreed to devote more than $5,000 to contract with the Las Vegas-based company Flying by Foy, which has worked with most of the Broadway and television productions that have flying characters.

"I want it to be fun," said Bush, "but the three rules of flying are safety, safety and safety."

A Flying by Foy director worked with each Lubbock actor, making each comfortable with harnesses, ropes and pulleys. That work now is overseen by Jared Canada, technical director for Tech's department of theater and dance.

Canada explained, "There are eight people that fly during the run of the show, including two Peters and two Wendys. Performers and operators all have been trained on site.

"They have been taught how to correctly wear their harness, and how to react to the way it holds them; how to signal operators that they are ready to take off; how to land; how to maneuver their bodies in the air; and the necessary choreography that goes along with their flight."

Canada estimated that a few actors fly as high as 15 feet, and he and Bush both pointed out that the actors seem to love to "fly."

"They prefer the flying rehearsals," said Bush. "I think they'd prefer to fly to the set and fly back home when we're finished."

Biggs, a 15-year-old Frenship High School student who has been acting for two years, said, "At first I was a little nervous about singing and flying at the same time. It turned out, it was actually easy to do.

"I never have feared heights. And now I absolutely love the flying in the show."

The actress never has seen a stage version of "Peter Pan," but recalled, "When I was younger, 'Peter Pan' was one of my favorite cartoon movies."

She is not alone.

Disney's 1953 release of "Peter Pan" is considered one of the Disney company's most commercial videos, having spawned a theatrical sequel for video and five Tinker Bell video spin-offs.

No doubt most also remember that "Peter Pan" was entertainer Michael Jackson's favorite movie of all time, and his California estate was called Neverland Ranch.

Biggs' favorite moment on stage arrives when she sings "Distant Melody" to the Lost Boys. Asked to cite the most difficult part of playing Pan, she said, "Whenever I am alone, talking to Tinker Bell."

The orchestra traditionally provides Tinker Bell's "dialogue" with a celesta. Bush said that Tink's movements on stage are represented by a laser.

Musicians also provide warnings that the crocodile feared by Captain Hook is near.

As for that animal, Bush says, "Our crocodile is an actor in costume, because we wanted it to dance with the pirates."

In fact, Bush said he has added a number of interactive moments involving pirates and the orchestra.

Daniel Hogan, who plays Hook and Mr. Darling, also provided the set design. Bush said visitors will remember his songs.

Ian Klotzman also landed the part he most wanted, the comic, non-singing pirate Smee; he is on stage to provide laughs.

Klotzman said he ironically also appeared in "Pirates of Penzance," but added that Smee is a "great character. When you imagine a pirate, you imagine a rough swashbuckler. Smee is the opposite. He is very meek, and always seems to have everyone's best interests in mind."

The actor's favorite scenes find him waltzing with Hook, and interacting in an unscripted moment.

Klotzman also discussed performing comedy on a large outdoor stage.

"Comedy is best when it is subtle," he pointed out, "and subtle does not play well in the amphitheater. So you have to find a way to make everything big without overdoing it and also making it clownish."

He continued, "I try to play levels. Hook is smaller than Smee in this particular show, so I do everything I can do to make myself smaller than Daniel. I wind up doing a lot of gags on the floor.

"The concrete stage seems to get harder and harder as the show goes on."

Obviously, anything for a laugh.

william.kerns@lubbockonline.com

-- 766-8712

Follow William on Twitter

@AJ_WilliamKerns

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(c)2013 the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (Lubbock, Texas)

Visit the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (Lubbock, Texas) at www.lubbockonline.com

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