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Excalibur Theatre's 'Peter Pan' Doesn't Fly, but It Comes Close

June 27, 2002|LYNNE HEFFLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Messy and high-spirited, the Excalibur Children's Thea- tre production of "Peter Pan" won't win any awards for professional polish, but its exuberance and audience-friendliness would be hard to match.

In the tiny lobby outside the small theater space, upstairs from Studio City's Sports Center, actors in costume greet the audience and slip neckties over the heads of adults of the male gender. As the men enter the theater and take their seats, they're fair game for enthusiastic "Lost Boys" who confiscate the ties because there are "no grown-ups allowed" in Never-Neverland.

In no time, children in the audience watch the entrance and shout, "A tie, a tie!" to the cast.

The rowdy pre-show playfulness continues as Peter Pan (disarmingly sincere Garry Purdy), the Lost Boys (C.J. DeAngelus, Tim Munday, Nathan Curtis, Joseph Falstad and Jared Vandegrift) and Valley girl-style Indian maidens (Victoria Bender, Bridget Pugliese, Paula Savar, Jency McLane, Shartel Haywood and K.C. Franklin) talk to and tease kids in the audience.

Once underway, James M. Barrie's fairy tale, directed by Melissa St. Onge, bumps along, unevenly but cheerfully, over some pop culture references, a few undercooked musical numbers and evidence of varying levels of acting expertise.

Most notable are Bender's Tiger Lily, Brit Townsend's Wendy, Matthew Artson's "Hook Junior" stooge and Mike Cahill's funny Captain Hook. Hook's nemesis, the Crocodile (Jim Jackson in a wacky costume) is another crowd-pleaser. He has swallowed not a clock but a boombox, whose "funky, downtown beat" makes Hook quake.

The young company's energy never flags. Its members leap, do back flips and cartwheels and bounce between acting out the story and recruiting audience participation. The building of Wendy's house with sticks and flowers involves at least half the audience.

St. Onge might rethink action that doesn't suit the long, narrow Excalibur stage, however. When actors sit or lie down, they disappear for most of the audience, and the lighting (light board operator Leah King is credited) could be considerably improved. But Bev Wiest's loosely matched costumes are of the friendly, let's-see-what's-in-the-trunk variety, and scenic artist John Wan's multicolored abstract designs for Never-Neverland and Hook's simple rowboat are a pleasant surprise.

"Peter Pan," Excalibur Theatre, Sports Center, upstairs, 12655 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. Sundays, 1 and 3 p.m., through July 7. Adults, $10; children, $8. (818) 761-8804. Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes.

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