The live orchestra will once again be conducted by Alexander Frey, whose reconstruction and recording of Bernstein’s score led pretty directly to the Santa Barbara Theater production. Corina Boettger returns as Peter, Robert Yacko as Captain Hook and Mr. Darling, and Ronit Aranoff debuts in town as Wendy. The dramatic fantasy will preview at 2 p.m. Sunday, open at 7 p.m. Tuesday, and run for 13 more performances through Jan. 3.
A reviewer of last year’s production complimented the show’s ability to keep a theater full of rather young children quiet for two-and-a-half hours. This feat alone is worth the price of admission.
The title of the show joins two hitherto separate entities, each a proven box-office draw: “Leonard Bernstein” and “Peter Pan.” In the late 1940s, Bernstein was hired to write some incidental music — no songs — for a production of the 1902 play, Peter Pan, by Barrie, a Scottish playwright and novelist (those who remember Marc Forster’s 2004 Finding Neverland, with Johnny Depp, will have a reasonably coherent sense of how the play came to be written). What no one counted on, including Bernstein himself, was the degree to which the play captured his imagination. He made almost an opera out of it, and the songs — for which he also wrote the lyrics — often had little to do with the play, and a lot to do with what the play made him aware of in his own life. He gave all the good songs to Wendy, and no songs at all to the eponymous hero. Be that as it may, the show was a hit, running for more than 300 performances. Then it disappeared for 50 years. Stuff happens.
Maybe we are witnessing the birth of a brand-new Christmas tradition. Several factors suggest something of the sort.
For one thing, it is moral and sentimental without being specifically Christian. Contrary to what you might expect, most of the popular “Christmas” shows and concerts have little or nothing to say about the birth of Christ, let alone the deeper mysteries of the Christian narrative. Handel’s Messiah is an exception — in every way — but remember that it was first performed at Easter, not Christmas. As a setting of the English verses from the King James Bible, it allows no room for improvement. In short, it represents the limits to the amount of overt religious instruction we are prepared to take at Christmas, even when it comes dressed in immortal music.
At Christmas, we prefer stories about people, preferably young children, who go on a magical journey and come back nicer and happier, and grown up. If it were made — or remade — now, The Wizard of Oz would be set at Christmas time. As with The Nutcracker, the protagonist of Peter Pan is not the title character — for you cannot have a protagonist whose defining action is his refusal to “grow up” — but a young girl named Wendy. The first-born, Wendy must take up the responsibility for her younger siblings, must grow into wisdom, during the sojourn in Neverland. At first glance, it seems like Peter gets away with it, never growing, never changing, hanging out all day with morons and getting into scrapes. Still, the prospect doesn’t have quite the luster it had before he met Wendy. Eternity goes on and on.
Tickets for Sunday’s preview are $24-$40; for the rest of the run, $39.50-$65.50; children 5-18 are $32.50. Click hereClick here to purchase tickets or for show times, or call the Lobero box office at 805.963.0761.
— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at email@example.com.