PETER PAN - At the Kennedy Center's Opera House through August 5.

When that 75-year-old green sprite "Peter Pan" comes flying through our theaters to remind us that happiness is not having to grow up, it's ungrateful - not to say disgustingly grown-up - to notice that:

His wires are showing.

Tinker Bell, as personified by an unreliable flashing green light, looks like a computer error.

What is being offered in Neverland is freedom from responsibility for boys only. Wendy is immediately put into the responsible role of Mother, and nagged about doing the spring cleaning, which takes the poignancy off her actual adulthood and motherhood later, in a house that at least has a domestic staff.

Having been exploited commercially for so long, Peter Pan is bound to look suspicious when he tries to sell us anything, even eternal youth, or maybe especially eternal youth, which is also associated with commercial products.

Not growing up has, since J.M. Barrie wrote the play in 1904, become a popular lifestyle among adults and it turned out to be not as cute as Peter Pan had promised.

It's hard to say whether a magical enough production would preclude such crusty, adult observations (although it should be noted that it's children who most mention the visibility of wires in flying sequences).

But you will notice that one item missing from the list is the fact that Peter Pan is a girl. Sandy Duncan, following a long and distinguished tradition of skinny actresses, plays the title role in the Kennedy Center production with enough cheerful grace and energy to make one suspend the disbelief, as we say in the theater trade, at least that far.

The rest of it - including George Rose's performances as Mr Darling and Captain Hook, and most particularly including the cutesy animal figures that are worked into Alwaysland as well as Neverland - is not magical but overburdened. In the attempt to fill the show with proven kiddie attractions, the magic of the idea is lost.