Twin Cities theater audiences are well aware of the commanding stage presence of Tyler Michaels, the Ivey Award-winning actor who has wowed audiences with a string of memorable performances, most recently as Puck in the Guthrie's "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
So it's nice to see his star power ratified by his proximity to an actor with national media wattage.
Michaels plays the title character in Peter Rothstein's snazzy production of "Peter Pan: The Musical," which had its fly-happy opening Friday in Minneapolis. His scene partner often is Alanna Saunders, one of the stars of the NBC live broadcast of "Pan" that aired last December.
On TV, Saunders embodied a fierce Tiger Lily, leader of a band of American Indian stereotypes. Onstage in Minneapolis, she depicts a winsome, charismatic Wendy, the sleepless girl who is flown by Peter Pan to Neverland to mother him and his band of Lost Boys.
Michaels and Saunders deliver with effortless chemistry and oodles of charm in Rothstein's magical production. Their characters often behave like magnetized poles with the same charge, deflecting each other as Peter, suspended in his development, seems unaware of her adolescent advances. Yet their characters come together for a common purpose and they work, platonically and with verve, to defeat a glammed-up Capt. Hook (Reed Sigmund).
Michaels never loses touch with Peter's innocence and energy. He flies with glee, doing flips and landing on furniture while singing. He deserves his standing ovation.
For her part, Saunders telegraphs a similar innocence and wholesomeness. She remains emotionally open and clear that even as she gets disappointed Peter does not know a thimble from a kiss. There's no doubt she has that "It" factor.
The swell cast, choreographed by Joe Chvala, performs amid evocative scenery created by Walt Spangler. Nods go to Dean Holt as factotum Smee and to Meghan Kreidler, the actor and dance captain who also is punchy as Tiger Lily. And the energies and talents of the youngsters who play the Lost Boys and a parallel girl gang, the Pounce, never flag.
The show, based on J.M. Barrie's writings and composed by Morris "Moose" Charlap and Jule Styne, is conducted vividly and with spirit by musical director Denise Prosek.
Even as it has remained part of the canon, "Peter Pan" has come up for excoriation because it has classed Indians, who speak gibberish in previous versions, among make-believe characters such as Peter and fairy Tinker Bell.
The Children's Theatre answers some of those concerns by making Tiger Lily a fanciful figure of unspecified ethnicity who could've been plucked from a Cirque du Soleil show, except that she speaks English. Still fearless in this adaptation, she is now in charge of the Pounce.
These smart changes broaden the potential contemporary audience for "Peter Pan," allowing director Rothstein's entertaining production to spirit us through the stars (and with them) to Neverland.