CVIndependent

Thu06042020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

“It’s a super-big challenge to fly.”

That the reason it’s taken more than 20 years for the Palm Canyon Theatre to put on the popular musical Peter Pan—but the venerable downtown Palm Springs theater will launch its new season with a production of the classic musical, on Friday, Sept. 20.

Paul Grant, who will play Captain Hook, discussed the show inside the spacious Palm Canyon Theatre auditorium on the northern side of downtown Palm Springs. Songs and dancing and costumes and scenery are all fine and dandy, Grant said, but to really get Peter Pan off the ground … you have to really get Peter Pan—not to mention Wendy, Michael and John Darling—off the ground, to make their way to Neverland. To replicate the show’s signature theatrical effect that sends multiple actors aloft, Grant said, “You have to hire Foy”—the company started by Peter Foy, the designer of the flight systems from the original production, which have been used in nearly every production since.

“It’s very expensive,” Grant said. “They’ve wanted to do it for a long time, but kept pushing it off” due to the significant cost—up to $10,000 for a two-week run, depending on the package, according to information from the Flying by Foy website. But the theater “had a good year this past year, so they’re in a better position, and they wanted to bring (the idea) back to life,” Grant said.

Peter Pan was a great fit for the season-opener, because the Palm Canyon Theatre operates a Kids’ Camp for six weeks every summer.

“We wanted to do a show coming out of the summer that was inclusive of the kids,” Grant said. And what better choice than a beloved musical about a boy who won’t grow up?

J.M. Barrie’s play Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up, debuted in 1904, and has been staged in a variety of forms ever since. After the popular 1953 Disney animated film, the 1954 stage musical adaptation, starring Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard, enjoyed a sold-out limited Broadway run. Peter Pan solidified its place in theatrical canon through subsequent televised re-stagings on NBC, in 1955 and 1956—as well as a 1960 standalone special that most people know today, thanks to numerous rebroadcasts and a home-video release. In 2014, NBC broadcast Peter Pan Live!, a new, slightly rewritten production with additional songs that starred Allison Williams and Christopher Walken.

Peter Pan is one of few American productions with roots in the traditions of pantomime, a style of family-friendly musical comedy developed in England with roots in 16th century Italian commedia dell’arte. Conventions of pantomime include song, dance, gags, slapstick comedy and cross-dressing lead characters—with, in the case of Peter Pan, the mischievous hero played by a young woman in men’s clothing. Kellee McQuinn takes on the title role in this production.

Grant plays the more-earthbound role of Captain Hook, a pirate with a bone to pick with Peter, because the boy cut off his hand and fed it to a crocodile—whose ravenous appetite for the remainder of Captain Hook makes it a constant, unnerving reptilian presence. Hook is “evil but fun,” said Grant, who also plays the Darlings’ initially imperious father. The dual casting is traditional, and not accidental. Grant offered a casual theory: Though the story is about a boy who won’t grow up, several other characters do grow over the course of the play, especially Wendy, the eldest Darling child—but so does her father, who at the end is a far more patient and gracious figure.

“The experience of traveling through their children’s fantasy has changed the way that he responds to them,” Grant suggested. However, Grant emphasized that, as of the interview, rehearsals had yet to begin for the specific production.

“In the end,” Grant said, “the actor is just a color. The director is the painter.” Longtime Palm Canyon Theatre principal Se Layne will direct and choreograph.

Peter Pan will be performed at 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Sept. 20, through Sunday, Sept. 29, at the Palm Canyon Theatre, 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $32 to $36, with discounts. For tickets or more information, call 760-323-5123, or visit www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

The Great Depression-set musical Guys and Dolls is a classic—and the Palm Canyon Theatre is bringing the show, which initially premiered on Broadway back in 1950, to its stage in January and February.

During a recent phone interview, director/choreographer Derik Shopinski explained why the Palm Canyon Theatre decided to include Guys and Dolls in this year’s schedule.

“It’s been a number of years since we’ve done the show,” Shopinski said. “The timing felt right. It’s in a good time slot for us, given the snowbirds really love the older shows that they know—and this one has gotten a huge response already with ticket sales.

“It’s a fun, feel-good show. It does have a message at heart, but it’s still a fun show.”

Shopinski elaborated on what’s fun about Guys and Dolls.

“At its heart, it’s two different love stories—the contrast between the Salvation Army girl and her bootlegger-gambler boyfriend, and the other couple, with the nightclub star and her gambler boyfriend who have been engaged for 14 years. It’s about the problems that they face, how they arrive at the end of the show, and how they tie it all up,” Shopinski said. “It has one of the best musical scores. … There’s so much about it that’s fun to watch, fun to look at and fun to listen to. We also have some amazing talent in the show, so that’s going to be very exciting for me, working with this very talented cast.”

That cast will contain some faces familiar to those who have attended Palm Canyon Theatre shows before, as well as some new talent.

“I have Paul Grant, who is playing Nathan Detroit, and Se Layne, who is playing Miss Adelaide, his love interest,” Shopinski said. “The other couple is married in real life—Nicholas Sloan and his wife, Jamie Leigh Walker, are playing Sky Masterson and Sarah Brown. I’ve worked with them both separately on other projects, and they are a dream to work with; they are incredibly professional, and they work well together, because they’ve done shows together since before they were married and while they’ve been married.”

Shopinski said the song that stands out to him comes toward the end of Act II.

“‘Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat’—it really wraps up the show in so many ways,” he said. “It’s one of the biggest ensemble numbers for all of the men and the band members. It’s a high-energy dance number that ties everything together.”

Bringing older musicals to the stage today may seem like a challenge to some—but Shopinski said he doesn’t see things that way.

“I really know these kinds of shows, given I grew up with them,” he said. “I know the music, and when you get into directing them, you can really dissect the story. While it’s historical … it’s necessarily telling historical events, because it’s taking place in another time. This was when they didn’t have all the television shows, and there wasn’t an internet. All you had was film and theater. They were three hours long, and it was what you did for entertainment. You went out to dinner, and then you went to the theater.”

The Palm Canyon Theatre finds success and is able to do a wide variety of shows thanks in part to its casting process, Shopinski said.

“Our casting process is very diverse,” he said. “We cast people of all backgrounds and all ages. Any given show, we’ll have 16-year-olds performing with our veteran performers. That, in turn, brings in the younger members’ friends to experience the shows. Our audience is as diverse as our cast members.”

Guys and Dolls will be performed at 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Jan. 18, through Sunday, Feb. 10, at the Palm Canyon Theatre, 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $32 to $36. For tickets or more information, call 760-323-5123, or visit www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

Published in Theater and Dance