After a tragic cancellation in the Spring of 2020, Stiles and Drewe’s Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure returns to the Knight Performance Hall stage this fall. The cast and crew have been working diligently over the past month to resurrect the show and return the magic of Neverland to the stage yet again. As a cast member myself, I was excited to sit down with a fellow cast member, Jaylin Schumacher, and the director of the show, Professor Jennifer Hunter.
Schumacher, who plays Mrs. Darling, was kind enough to talk with me about what it’s like to be a returning cast member this fall. She describes her character as the caring matriarch of the Darling family who worries about her children as they fly off to Neverland. She says she finds the rehearsal process “fun because it’s really a great community of people that are really supporting and encouraging of everyone, who love to have fun, [and] who work hard.”
Professor Hunter, who directs both the UNW theatre program and this fall’s show, described to me her experience working with such a talented cast and crew. Says Hunter, “It’s such a fun adventure.” At the start, she did have some reservations: “I was nervous. I wasn’t sure if the students were super excited about it.” However, Hunter’s fears were eased when she saw the response from this fall’s cast, with students eagerly taking time to practice and perfect their parts outside of rehearsal to pick up where they left off in the Spring of 2020.
The cast of Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure includes some alumni who have chosen to come back and reclaim the roles they were never able to perform. New students have also been working hard to succeed in the roles they’ve been given. Hunter excitedly described this new cast dynamic: “For those who decided to return, it’s been amazing, and for those who are stepping into those roles, you know, it’s a big challenge, and if we’re truly trying to give a professional experience to our students, this is the quintessential professional experience that they’ve never had! The students have just blown me away.”
Bringing the show back hasn’t been easy, however. As Schumacher describes, “It’s a lot of rehearsal time. We’re putting a lot of hard work into the show. We are definitely having to relearn some things from the last time, but it’s a really, really great experience to be in the cast and crew.”
Hunter also described the challenges caused by the threat of Covid-19. She emphasized the importance of understudies for this performance, noting how these understudy actors play a crucial role in keeping the show alive in the midst of a pandemic that could potentially remove leading actors from the show.
Hunter explained how much time and money is required to help characters fly across the stage in various scenes: “I think everyone wants to see Peter Pan fly… the Darling family has to fly as well… There’s about four days of training with our actors to get them up in the air… there’s a lot of hours involved.” The cast will be working with New York company Foy to make the process fun and safe for everyone involved. Some people may remember the incorporation of flying characters in UNW’s 2017 production of Mary Poppins. This process is expensive and requires many extra hands to physically lift actors into the air using ropes but is well worth it to fully bring the show to life!
Hunter wants to do the show despite the challenges involved: “I think I really had to sit down and ask myself the question: do I have something new to tell? Is there still a story that I feel needs to be told with this show? And I do! We’ve approached it in a different way. I want our Peter Pan to be a different Peter Pan than other people have experienced. I want them to say, ‘I’ve never seen this before!'”
Hunter described one of the key changes they’re making to the show: “For instance, the way that we’re handling the Amazon Women. You know, we’ve got Athena and her Amazon Women.” Decisions such as this required permission from Stiles and Drewe, the creators of Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure, but make the show even more unique.
Hunter is confident in the abilities of her cast in resurrecting the show to its full glory: “It just solidifies that we are a small little theatre program, but we are a mighty, mighty theatre program that is taking theatre seriously… The intention here is to honor God with our gifts. He’s given us a calling and a passion… I think this is the right time, with the right people… It’s very evident that God has His hand on this production.”
As a part of the show myself, I can attest to how talented the cast and crew are and how eager they are to perform. So, why should you go see the show? According to Schumacher, Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure is “such a wonderful show full of magic and laughter… the music is fantastic, and it’s not your everyday Peter Pan. We’re bringing a lot of fun twists to it… and it’s going to be a great show.” Hunter’s glowing praise of the cast and crew also attests to the adventure that awaits every audience member.
Peter Pan will be performing in the Knight Performance Hall October 28 – November 13. For tickets, stop by or call UNW’s ticket office! UNW students are entitled to one free ticket!