If he has managed to escape the crocodile that was hot on his trail, when last we heard, Neverland’s Captain Hook might have a bright future as an entrepreneur. Not only has this endearingly dastardly pirate devised a way to swap his hook for a plug-into-the-wrist-stump toothbrush, for more efficient dental hygiene — there could be terrific merchandising possibilities here! — but he understands the importance of strategic thinking. “A pirate needs a plan!” he carols in a rollicking song in Kathryn Chase Bryer’s production of “Peter Pan and Wendy” at Imagination Stage.
Captain Hook (James Konicek) and his comically inept sidekick, Smee (Michael John Casey), are the highlights of “Peter Pan and Wendy,” Alyn Cardarelli and Steve Goers’s children’s musical, based on J.M. Barrie’s famous tale. Other iconic Neverland figures materialize, too, of course: the egocentric, adulthood-resistant Peter Pan (Jonathan Atkinson) leads his Lost Boys through adventures; Wendy (Justine Moral) exercises her mothering skills; and Tinkerbell flutters through the air like a petulant firefly. But it’s Hook — part dandy, part scheming rogue, part hot-tempered CEO — and the bumbling Smee who plunder our affections.
The zestiness of the pirates might not be surprising: Cardarelli and Goers have a skull-and-crossbones track record, having written “How I Became a Pirate,” which Imagination Stage mounted in 2010. In tackling the saga of the Boy Who Would Not Grow Up, the collaborators are turning to material that has been frequently riffed on for the stage: from Barrie’s 1904 play (the basis for his 1911 novel), to “Peter Pan: The Boy Who Hated Mothers,” which local troupe No Rules Theatre Company premiered in 2012, to “Peter and the Starcatcher,” the Broadway-honed “Peter Pan” prequel that will visit the Kennedy Center in 2014.
Imagination Stage’s publicity materials say that Cardarelli and Goers’s narrative gives added prominence to the character of Wendy. And certainly, one of the first images we see on Klyph Stanford’s handsome nursery-meets-fantasyland set — oversize toy building blocks, a pirate ship, a treehouse — is Moral’s young heroine, clad in a nightgown, wielding an umbrella in an imaginary sword fight. Wendy’s subsequent paean to playtime and the nursery (“I’m in no rush to grow old,” she sings) gets the musical off to a slow and sentimental start. (Imagination Stage recommends the show for ages 4 to 10, but the 4-year-old who accompanied me was restless during the quiet, emotionally sophisticated nursery scenes that bookend the production.)
Fortunately, the action becomes zippier and funnier once Peter Pan has flown Wendy (who has no siblings in this telling of the story) off to Neverland. Conjuring up the flying sequences are abstract video projections, vaguely suggestive of bird’s-eye panoramas, that move behind the performers. (Stanford is the projection designer.) But once the travelers land, the world becomes vivid and specific. A regal Tiger Lily (Angela Miller) stalks around with a bow and arrow. The crocodile slithers by, showing off its watch-gear scales and alarm-clock eyes (references to the fact that Hook has fed the croc a ticking timepiece). Eccentric mermaids with blue-rag hair and teacup-encrusted bodices (Matt Dewberry and Dan Van Why) swim through a lagoon. (Katie Touart designed the witty costumes.)
Flanked by these visions, the prim Wendy, who wants to teach the Lost Boys math, inevitably fades into the background — though Moral, who sings beautifully, does her best with the character. As a raggedy, smudged-faced Peter Pan, Atkinson conveys the right note of not-wholly-admirable feistiness, while Van Why and Dewberry make pleasantly scrappy and waifish Lost Boys. But when Smee is around, bungling yet another assignment from his captain, or Hook is hatching another cartoonishly villainous plot, you wish these buccaneers could plant the Jolly Roger on their very own pirate-focused musical.
Wren is a freelance writer.
a musical by Alyn Cardarelli and Steve Goers. Directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer; music director, George Fulginiti-Shakar; choreographer and fight choreographer, Krissie Marty; lighting design, Jason Arnold; sound, Christopher Baine. 90 minutes. Through Aug. 11 at Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Ave., Bethesda. Call 301-280-1660 or go to www.imaginationstage.org.