Peter Pan, the iPad of Theater, Flies into Chicago

Like the first generation Apple tablet, Broadway in Chicago and threesixty° entertainment’s “Peter Pan” flew into town with deserved graduation-season pomp and circumstance, befitting theater’s prospective next big thing.

Common to most new technology, this production simultaneously wows and disappoints.

The wow begins walking up to the 1,300-seat, in-the-round theater tent parked in a lot adjacent to the Chicago Tribune’s Freedom Center off Chicago Avenue at Halsted. Its spaceship appearance prepares patrons for the evening’s flights ahead. It continues inside with circular, high-resolution projectors, touted by producers as “three-times the size of IMAX screens.”

The show begins unceremoniously with piped in music and a dull opening to set the story of the Darling Family in London’s Kensington Gardens. When the parents scram, mischievous Peter Pan shows up to fly the kids off to Neverland, where they can be forever young.

And fly they do. With only minor harness distractions, the cast soars through London and the countryside with a realism illuminating the power of this new theatrical app. It’s akin to the “Soarin’ ” experience introduced at the Disney theme parks in recent years and is undeniably the coolest part of the production.

Unfortunately, the human aerobatic sequences are few and far between, tied together with a sleepy plot. There are instances of music, but this is no musical. And the best staging is the choreography saved, appropriately, for the fight between Captain Hook’s pirates and the residents of Neverland.

Author J.M. Barrie’s characters are acted adequately with two exemplary exceptions—Steven Pacey’s purposefully pathetic Captain Hook and Emily Yetter’s Tinker Bell, who puts a new, low-class, troll-like spin on the well-known mute fairy.

But even Tinker Bell, while entertaining, contributes to the show’s enigmatic feel with her healthy cleavage and instances of foul language (she calls Peter a “silly ass” several times). This characterization, along with that of the overtly sensual Tiger Lily, is disquieting to adults rather than enhancing their immersion into this children’s story.

Deserving of note are the production’s exquisite puppets, including the Darling dog, Nana, an ostrich and a mechanical crocodile. While they certainly enhance the stage, they also require the audience to either ignore the onstage puppeteers or accept them as part of the puppet characters.

In all, “Peter Pan” is a first generation iPad for a person who wants to Skype—no camera, no microphone, no flash. But it offers a glimpse onto the ground floor of what could be theater’s next big thing. And for that, it’s worthy of attention.

After all, that first iPad was pretty cool.

“Peter Pan” runs through June 19 at the Chicago Tribune Freedom Center, 650 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago. Information and individual tickets are available at broadwayinchicago.com and peterpantheshow.com or by phone at 888-PPANTIX. Group tickets may be purchased by calling 312-977-1710. Individual tickets are $25-$75.

About the author: Barry Reszel is a Libertyville-based writer, at-home dad and executive director of the not-for-profit entertainment company Liberty Town Productions.