While the basic story might be familiar, Peter Pan and Tinker Bell: A Pirate’s Christmas, presented by Lythgoe Family Panto and currently playing Nashville at TPAC’s Polk Theatre, offers a whole new take on the classic. Interestingly, that new take is largely due a centuries old theatrical artform known as pantomime, or panto for short. When most Americans hear the word pantomime, thoughts of mimes with clown-white faces mimicking attempts of escaping non-existent boxes come to mind. While that is indeed a type of pantomime, this pantomime is much different.
With roots tracking back nearly as far as recorded time itself, panto—in the more modern sense—presents a familiar story, usually a favorite children’s fairy tale, but with comedy, music, encouraged audience interaction and just enough double-entendre to keep parents entertained as well.
Lythgoe Family Panto’s Kris Lythgoe has written a holiday version of the legendary tales of Peter Pan, Tinker Bell, Captain Hook and the Darling children, brothers Michael & John and sister, Wendy and set it all to tunes ranging from recent hits like Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk and Rachel Platten’s Fight Song to modern classics like Blue Swede’s Hooked on a Feeling and The Village People’s In The Navy.
What’s more, said chart-toppers are performed by a brilliant mix of talented performers that also run the gamut on the entertainment scale. Case in point, Captain Hook is played to the deliciously sinister tongue-in-cheek max by none other than John O’Hurley. From his memorable 90s gig as J. Peterman, Elaine’s boss at the outdoorsy clothing catalogue company on Seinfeld, and his turn as lawyer Billy Flynn on Broadway and in a more recent national tour of Chicago to his annual TV host duties on Thanksgiving for Purina’s National Dog Show since 2002, O’Hurley has done it all. Heck, he even competed on Dancing With the Stars. As Captain Hook, he’s equal parts villain and ham—the perfect combination for a family-friendly show that manages to keep the adults entertained as well. O’Hurley’s musical moments—both the aforementioned Hooked on a Feeling and In The Navy are presented with his faithful sidekick, Smee and a rag-tag trio of pirates doing their best impersonations of Elvis Presley, John Lennon and Michael Jackson by his side as Captain Hook and the boys earn every single cheer and jeer from the audience. (don’t forget, in panto, audible reaction from the audience isn’t just encouraged, it’s expected)
Mason Trueblood as Pirate Lennon…I’m guessing legal reasons prevent them crediting him as Pirate John Lennon, but I digress…gets the fun of nearly every response he utters also being a Beatles’ song title, just another layer to the show for the grown-up in the audience. Meanwhile, Pirate Elvis as played by Dan Castiglione, offers a hip-swiveling, lip-curling wink to nearby Memphis and Malcolm Buchanan as Pirate Jack (as in Michael Jackson…more legalese, I’m sure) provides some comical moon-walking, crotch-grabbing and high-pitch squealing.
Having nabbed a spot in the Top Five from Season 8 of So You Think You Can Dance, Clarice Ordaz appears in Peter Pan as Tiger Lily, the indian princess who befriends Peter and the Lost Boys. Albeit bordering on political incorrectness…what isn’t lately?…I personally found the character of Tiger Lily and the rest of the indians, in particular their clever choreography, quite funny.
Speaking of funny, no one in the show is funnier than Ben Giroux as Smee. Smee is Hook’s figural right hand man (remember the captain’s literal right hand was chomped off by a crocodile). Rather than describing Smee as Captain Hook’s right-hand man, perhaps it’s more accurate to refer to him as his second banana, especially since Giroux is so dang hilarious—Google Back to the 90s for a peek at Giroux’s comedic genius. A huge part of what makes this Peter Panto so enjoyable, at least for the over 12 set, is Giroux’s quick witted delivery. As for the kiddies, they might recognize Giroux as the pint-sized villain, The Toddler from Nickelodeon’s Henry Danger. Several side jokes, many playing to the Music City audience by making reference to Nashville-centric themes, are so slyly delivered by Gireox that if you’re not paying full attention, you’ll miss them. One I found particularly humorous made reference to the fact that Tinker Bell wasn’t the only fairy in the story, but I’ll leave that one alone.
Speaking of fairies—the traditional kind—Tinker Bell is enchantingly, buzzily, brilliantly played by current Nashville resident, Diana DeGarmo. DeGarmo, while perhaps best known for being voted runner-up on season 2 of the original run of American Idol, DeGarmo has gone on to star on Broadway, in national tours and numerous regional musical theatre productions. From her opening duet with Tegan Marie’s Wendy on Nature Boy, DeGarmo sprinkles pixie dust, cheer and an entertaining helping of mischief into her portrayal of Tinker Bell. Diana, if you’re reading this, get to the studio ASAP and record your version of Nature Boy. It is ethereal and simply beautiful. Proving she can belt or ballad, Diana provides the show’s most musically glorious moment when she proves once and for all that big things do indeed come in small packages with her show-stopping rendition of the Aretha Franklin classic, Think. I was lucky enough to have been in the audience a few weeks ago for the December installment of Music City’s monthly Nashville House Concerts when DeGarmo performed a preview of her take on the iconic tune and it was marvelous. Should she ever assume the role of Tinker Bell again, I see #ThinkTink trending! An interesting bit of synergy: As mentioned above, DeGarmo got her big break on American Idol, Among Idol’s original producers— Nigel Lythgoe, who just so happens to be Peter Panto creator Kris Lythgoe’s father)
As for DeGarmo’s Nature Boy duet partner, Tegan Marie, who not only is the youngest female singer to sign a major country music record deal since Tanya Tucker, is also making her musical theatre debut with this show. As Wendy Darling, Tegan Marie is, well…darling, indeed. Garnering a huge and very devoted fan base of young girls just like herself, she began her career at a very young age by posting videos of herself covering classic songs, so covering The Chainsmokers Don’t Let Me Down as Wendy in this panto seems like a great way to ease her into musical theatre. Not that she needs to be eased into anything. At only 15, she’s so comfortable on stage in the role of Wendy, that playing Mother to Peter and the Lost Boys is a perfect fit. It’s no coincidence, that among Wendy’s songs in Peter Pan and Tinker Bell: A Pirate’s Christmas, Tegan Marie also performs her own current single, Make a Boy Cry within the show, providing another perfectly synergistic moment.
More Music City synergy comes in the casting of Wendy’s younger siblings, John and Michael, as well as the Lost Boys, as all these roles are played by Nashville youth. Alan Harrison Foeder and Lucas Shane alternating in the role of Michael and Andrew Hansen and Jackson Nolan rotating in the role of John.
Then there’s Peter Pan himself, played by former Disney heartthrob Garrett Clayton. After achieving success starring in two installments of the Disney Teen Beach Movie franchise, Clayton’s teen trajectory continued with the recurring role of Chase Dillon on The Fosters which aired on the Disney-owned ABC Family/Freeform network and a starring role as Link Larkin in TV’s Hairspray LIVE! Breaking out of the house of mouse, Clayton turned in a surprisingly adult and critically acclaimed performance in King Cobra, a bio pic centering ‘round the adult film industry, alongside James Franco in 2016. in 2017, he co-starred with his Peter Pan co-star Giroux in the previously referenced Back to the 90s and earlier this year Giroux produced Clayton’s hauntingly hot I Put a Spell on You just in time for Hocus Pocus‘ 25th anniversary. While Clayton continues to showcase his range from drama to musicals, Peter Pan is the perfect role. With his boyish matinee idol looks and boundless energy, he scarcely needs the high-flying wires as he leaps across the stage as the boy who’ll never grow up. His musical moments in Peter Pan are just as cleverly interwoven as the rest. Near the show’s opening sequence, Clayton performs Believe, a song made famous by Josh Groban as included in the hit Christmas movie, The Polar Express. With lyrics: “Believe in what your heart is saying. Hear the melody that’s playing” and “Give your dreams the wings to fly” is the perfect Peter Panto anthem. When he joins forces with DeGarmo on Fight Song the audience can’t help but believe that anything can happen second star to the right and straight on till morning.
Peter Pan and Tinker Bell: A Pirate’s Christmas continues its holiday run in Nashville at TPAC‘s Polk Theatre with matinee performances Friday and Saturday, December 21 and 22 at 1 p.m. and Sunday, December 23 at 11 a.m. and evening performances Friday, December 21 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, December 22 at 6 p.m. and a final afternoon performances Sunday, December 23 at 4 p.m. Ticket prices start at $35, with a limited number of $25 Rush Tickets available 60 minutes prior to each remaining show’s start time. Click Here to purchase tickets.
Following a brief holiday break, TPAC’s Broadway series returns with the Nashville premier of the touring company of On Your Feet! the Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan onstage at TPAC’s Jackson Hall from Tuesday, January 15 thru Sunday, January 20. Click Here for tickets or more information. You can also discover all the latest from TPAC by checking them out online or on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.