Take a walk up Cambridge Street in Boston most evenings, and you can’t miss the blue glow that comes from a 100-foot-tall tent rising from City Hall Plaza. The glowing tent is a unique theatrical space - the “threesixtyº Theatre” - where Peter Pan is performed through December. This new, in-the-round version is true to J.M. Barrie’s original tale of the boy who refuses to grow up, yet technically innovative enough for a 21st century audience. First performed in London, the traveling show has been to Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles prior to its arrival in Boston.
The theater seats 1,300, yet is only 14 rows deep, so each seat is close to the action. The tent’s structure - the supporting beams are massive, external girders - means that the sight lines are good no matter where you sit. Acoustics are generally good, although occasionally the dialog can be a bit difficult to hear.
The cast of characters will be familiar to kids and parents, and there is something for all ages in the show. Little ones are kept engaged by the active, up-close, in-the-round storytelling and people-powered puppets, while older kids can relate to the competition among Tiger Lily, Wendy and Tinker Bell (“not the politest of fairies”) for Peter’s attention. Adults may see something of themselves in the Darling parents. (Mr. Darling doubles as Captain Hook, which may make you wonder, “do my kids see me as the bad guy?” )
Balancing Technology and Tradition. The interior of the tent is lit with more than 15,000 square feet of hi-resolution video (three times the size of Imax screens), which allows for incredible panoramic flight scenes and stage settings. A cupola houses tons of equipment for lights, sound, and flying scenes. The show touts its CGI imagery and 360-degree technology, but don’t expect a slick, high-tech production. An obvious choice was made to produce a show that balances live stage action, tradition theatrical effects, and state-of-the-art technology.
In place of traditional painted scenery, projected images provide a static backdrop of London rooftops during the opening scene in the Darling children's bedroom. When the children head off to Neverland with Peter Pan, the animation comes alive as the actors lift off from the stage. Peter and the gang soar over London on their flight to Neverland, and audience members of all ages sway slightly, as if they are flying, too. The approach to Neverland is greeted with a cannon volley that startles the audience as much as the actors.
Actors “fly” nearly 100 feet above the stage, yet no fancy technology masks how they do this - hooking and unhooking of suspension wires are part of the act. Larger-than-life, “people powered” puppets made from everyday objects also keep the show grounded. The puppeteers are in full view, but at times they blend in to the scene so subtly that it’s easy to forget that Nana and the crocodile are just puppets.
The Details. Peter Pan is playing at City Hall Plaza through December 30. The show runs two hours and 20 minutes, including a 20-minute intermission. Individual tickets range from $35 to $75. Check the website for a complete schedule and to purchase tickets. And for more behind-the-scenes information, please read our interview with Robert Butters, one of the show’s producers.
Enjoy, and have an “awfully good adventure”...