Isabella’s Review of “Pete, Or the Return of Peter Pan”

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Pete, or the Return of Peter Pan is an amazing adventure about mystical creatures and life lessons. Friendship, loyalty and teaching the importance of being humble are common themes in this modern day Neverland which is jam packed with Ninjas, Pirates and Dinosaurs! Wendy and Henry travel to Neverland and teach Peter how to be a better boy. “Peter is a lost boy who does not know how to do the right thing because he was never taught to do the right thing. He has no parents to guide him and is a tad bit selfish. He never really has to grow up.” says actor Gavin Austin Brown who’s boyish grin truly captures this spirit of Peter Pan.

Rebecca Duckworth who plays “Just Wendy” a descendant of the original Wendy, describes her character as, “Feisty and gets a little angry at times, but fights for what she believes in.” The actress says she can see some of herself in “Just Wendy”. In some ways so do I. I did Karate a few years back and a lot of people told me it was for boys. Someone told me I could not do cheerleading and karate. I fought back and said I could be both. In the play Wendy is furious when Peter tells her what she can and can’t do as a girl and takes credit for all her accomplishments in Neverland. It may surprise the audience that although she takes a windy path, in many ways Wendy becomes the hero.

Watching the two pirate ladies Anne Bonny and Mary Read in the play was hilarious. I got a real kick out of their slapstick style comedy routine. They were supposedly the antagonist, but were more funny than scary. This play is definitely ok for kids of all ages. Debra K. Stevens describes Anne Bonny as “not really evil, just a little goofy”. She says that she “loved saying those delicious piratey words and that it’s fun to play a bad guy sometimes”. Both Debra and Katie McFadzen (Mary Read) light up the stage even when the fairies were no-where to be found!

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Now watch closely because these ladies play not two, but three parts in the production of Pete, or the Return of Peter Pan! It sounds like costume changes were a challenge. Katie McFadzen played my other favorite character, the cool grandmother who remembers Neverland…Or is just senile…it’s hard to tell. Katie describes her as, “A trippy, fun senior citizen lady”. The grandmother is like a care free version of professor Trelawney from Harry Potter!

There are more humorous surprises in this performance. In most versions of Peter Pan, Smee is considered of less than average intelligence, but in this version he outsmarted the pirates,“Just Wendy”, Henry and Peter Pan. Pay close attention to Smee. He comes up with a mischievous plan that you will find out when you watch this intriguing play!

As child reporter I was able to use my backstage pass to tour the amazing Neverland set. I got to slide or “fly” down into the Neverland set and holy shalupas it was crazy fast!  After safely landing on the ground we moved on to back stage and the props. It was awesome to see the tricks they came up with to make this performance over the top wonderful. I got to see the two phones,  one of which was smashed on arrival to Neverland forcing the kids to use their imagination for entertainment. Also, I saw both of Smee’s jackets. One was decked out with fairy lights.

Live theater is better than TV because it’s not perfect. There is no re-do if you make a mistake. For example, something imperfect that happened was that the clock was supposed to break, but it didn’t. They handled it like pros by continuing the show as if nothing went wrong. I did not think it was supposed to break. Live theater Ninja fighting can be dangerous as well. One of the warriors was hurt in a past show. Some of the scenes were changed to work around this, but you never would have known. The show must go on!

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I asked the cast why they did Childsplay Theater. They has some very special reasons. Alan Khoutakoun, who plays Henry, is clearly comfortable on stage. During the back-stage interview he says he does Childsplay because he loves seeing the kids faces light up and to bring the characters alive. He also enjoys hearing what the kids say about the show in the question and answer section after each performance. Gavin Austin Brown, who plays Peter, thinks that it is very important for kids to be exposed to live theater.  Growing up he did not get that opportunity until 4th grade. “I saw the Velveteen Rabbit at Childsplay” he shared. He loved it and realized that it is what he wanted to do as a grown up! I am now in 4th grade and have been very lucky to be given the opportunity to see so many plays. Through my old school in Tempe we were able to see Childsplay Productions. I wish all kids in AZ had the chance to be part of something so special. If you get the chance you should definitely bring your kid to this show!

Looking back at this story it reminds me girls can do anything boys can do. I just took my  4th grade history test and learned that a lot of women did the work of men in WW2 when the men were away at war. When the war was over many women wanted to continue working. They learned they were capable of doing anything a man could do. This is a modern day Peter Pan and Wendy actually trained in Karate before she took the magic flight to Neverland and fought better than Peter Pan. Not a spoiler alert, I promise, but she “saved Peter” physically from the bad guy and may have saved him in another way by teaching him how to be a friend. I can relate to Wendy because many people underestimate kids, I am a kid, but I can be a reporter. I am glad that Childsplay gives the chance to report on fun plays like these!

P.S. Dwayne Hartford as incoming artistic director did an awesome job turning Pete, or the Return of Peter Pan into a modern day success.

Isabella
Kid Reporter

Isabella’s Thoughts on “The Smartest Girl in the World”

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I think The Smartest Girl in the World is an awesome play because I got lost in the real life experience of a brother and sister, Leo and Lizzy, who go through a roller coaster of good and bad feelings.  Something that may come as a surprise is the seriousness of the subjects that surface between the two latch-key kids that stay home after school, dreaming of being the smartest kids in the world.  They want a good life, to go to college and have loads of money, to live in a nice house with their parents and make all the family dreams come true! Rudy Ramirez, who plays Leo, describes the performance as, “Emotionally direct…It is more than a nice cute show about brothers and sisters…it explores rifts in their relationship.”

I had a fantastic opportunity to ask the cast how they could relate to the characters and if they were ever a latch-key kid. Latch-key is a fancy word for kids who come home without supervision and take care of themselves until their parents get back. I found out the actors had some similar real life experiences to draw from that helped them dig deep and prepare for their roles. They did an outstanding job! This may be just one more reason why the characters were so believable and came to life – like in the pages of a book!

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Listen to what they said:

Osiris Cuen, who plays Lizzie wondered if the character was, “Too real! My mom, a single mother, was working all the time to provide for us…..We had to take care of ourselves.” She shares a memory of time she tried to help mom load the dishwasher that resulted in flooding the house with a mountain of suds after using the wrong soap.

Rudy Ramirez, who plays Leo, can also relate. He says, “I have a younger sister…my parents were 1st generation ……I went to a title one school in a not great neighborhood. All we had was each other and we loved each other fiercely and fought like nobody’s business!”

In the show Leo and Lizzy also argue big, but their love for each other and their family drives them to mend bad feelings.  Like Rudy and his sister, Leo and Lizzie fought like nobody’s business, but over grown up stuff. This performance made me really think. As a kid sometimes people underestimate us, but not this play. It challenged me to think about school and family differently.

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I learned that this is a new play, not just to me, but to the world. This is actually the World Premiere of Miriam Gonzales’ The Smartest Girl in the World!

The cast was hilarious! Did you know they actually have a school anthem they sing before every show? This must be where they get that fiery energy that lights up the stage.

Something to keep an eye out for in the performance was some cast members play more than one role. I interviewed 4 people, but there were more characters in the play. I did not notice it was the same person! Jamie Sandomire plays both Lizzie’s friend and Aunt. I asked this crazy cast who was the funniest in real life. Sounds like they all have their moments. It’s how they work together that makes this play a success!

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A cool thing about having a backstage pass is I learned the secret to all the set changes. Most things can be flipped around for double use. Watch close – the headboard of the bed is also the game show board! This is important because everything needs to fit into a small space as Childsplay travels all over the United States and Canada. Another fun part of being backstage with the actors is knowing what really goes on and where they goofed up during the performance. They make funny mistakes, but you never know. For example, Lizzy, is upset about things not going her way and in that scene the poster on her wall falls down and it gives her a moment to get angry. The poster was not really supposed to fall down, but the audience never knew because Osiris used the poster falling to show she was angry. Leo dropped a book, but carried on and the audience did not know a thing!

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The actors have been studying for a long time and that is one of the things that makes the show amazing! For Jamie Sandomire, acting on a Childsplay stage was always a dream! I think it is awesome that she fulfilled her dream.

The cast had some advice for aspiring young actors. They said to be in as many plays as possible and to go see as many plays as possible, because you can learn from watching. This is great advice. I learned a lot! Parents, kids, and aspiring actors will enjoy The Smartest Girl in the World!

Isabella
Kid Reporter