Not your father’s Peter Pan


Benjamin Hoey and Gabriella Hall

In the middle of Act Three of West Ottawa’s production of Peter Pan, Captain Hook begins to realize that he is losing. His plan to kill all the boys has failed. All of the sudden, the familiar ticking of a clock can be heard. The crocodile is closing in. Only, it’s not a green, scaly, reptilian crocodile. The West Ottawa version has a crocodile made of sheet metal, almost mechanical in nature, and being controlled by natives, who use this to scare Hook. This is not your typical crocodile. In fact, there is little about West Ottawa’s production that is “typical.”


A Steam-based Theme


Director Joe Huber is a creative director and typically inputs his own ideas into musicals and plays, but never has he taken a show in a direction like this. In the 1953 Disney movie, Neverland was portrayed as an island of bright and vibrant colors filled with mystical creatures like mermaids and fairies, adventurous natives and vengeful pirates. But Huber has decided to step away from the vivid colors and luminous scenery, and take an alternate path.


Steampunk is a style of design and fashion that combines historical elements with anachronistic technological features inspired by science fiction. “The show actually takes place in the Victorian Era, and Steampunk is Victorian Era meets industrialization. And it’s also kinda a pop style, so it’s a little more contemporary,” Huber said. “So it feels more contemporary even though it’s based on Victorian times.”


“Everybody that does Peter Pan, does it pretty much like the original show in 1954. And the locations are always the same. I’ve always thought that Neverland wasn’t interesting enough, that it’s just any other island. Like, so what makes Neverland cooler and more unique?” Huber said. Creating a steampunk Neverland gave the island an edge, it made it fresher and cooler but still stayed true to the original idea of Neverland. “Having done over 40, close to 50 shows here at West Ottawa, I gotta keep it fresh for me and the students. And I like the more experimental things, otherwise, we’re just repeating what someone else has already done. It’s all about the students that are in the show creating something new,” he said.


Taking this route in the process of creating the set and scenery for Neverland was a chance Huber was willing to take to make Peter Pan more impressive than previous shows like the 2016 fall musical Crazy for You. “Sometimes, I just think there is a show we should do, and we should do it the way we want to. Because it’s all about the kids learning it and experiencing it. And if the audience happened to like it, that’s icing on the cake,” Huber said. “We don’t do shows at West Ottawa for our audiences. We do it because we want to learn theater, we want to learn a new style, we want to work on our singing, our acting, our dancing, and all of that. And if at the end of eight weeks, the people who watch it, love it, yay!”


West Ottawa High School’s theatre program has received high praise over the years. So, where was the worry that Peter Pan won’t rise up to the stakes, having the bar set so high? “I want people to sit in the audience and think ‘Oh Peter Pan is a kids’ show’ only to be swept away and remember what it’s like to be a kid. When the curtain goes up on the first scene, I want them to think ‘Oh, that’s not what I’m used to seeing.’ Because, even the scene in the Darling home, it doesn’t have traditional walls, it’s really abstract which will make people think “Oh, this is a very unusual production, this is different.’ and hopefully when we get to Neverland, and it’s more of a playground type situation, it will blow them away,” Huber said.


WO’s theatre program has an excellent reputation, and their shows do not disappoint. “Historically we are pretty good at West Ottawa; I don’t know if I’ve ever heard someone say they thought one of our shows was awful. I think we have a good track record of doing really good quality shows, so hopefully, Peter Pan will follow in that tradition of us putting on extraordinary productions in theatre,” Huber said.


The Faces of the Show


As with any stage performance, the actors bring the characters and the story to life. Being a very important part of the show, casting the right actors in the right parts can be difficult. With Huber’s vision, however, some roles may not seem the way that people may have expected them to be.


Peter Pan, although depicted as a young boy, is typically played by a female in the stage performance. “He [Peter Pan] is a boy, but the musical Peter Pan originally was a girl playing it. Although I find that really interesting, I can never get away from the fact that it is a girl playing a boy. I was very open to that.” However, Huber decided to cast a male actor in that position instead. Jr. Jaelan Williams has been given the opportunity to show off his talents in the role of Peter Pan. Williams is an experienced stage performer and is fitting into the role perfectly. Huber knew that Williams was going to be a great fit. “He’s got an incredibly beautiful voice. He has a very strong voice,” Huber said.“Mrs. Pierson was concerned about people being able to sustain that over eight weeks of rehearsal and all the performances,” Huber said, addressing the substantial difficulty of the role of Peter Pan itself, just from a singing perspective. That hasn’t stopped Williams at all. The role is one of immense importance, high skill, demanding to one’s work ethic, and true devotion and inventiveness. Williams seems to be bringing all of that to the table, along with some of his own personal flair.


Frosh. Leeza Jongekryg is new to the high school theatre scene and is already playing a major part in creating an amazing show. She has been cast as the role of Michael Darling, the youngest brother of the Darling children. “One of the rules that we put on ourselves was ‘If we could use only high school kids, we were gonna do it.’ I could have gone out and looked for a Michael, but it’s a high school show. Whenever we can use high schoolers in a high school show, we should,” Huber said. He has done things in the past with younger children being involved in a high school, but with the nature of the show revolving around playfulness and pretending, using a high schooler, a female one at that, to play Michael Darling seemed more appropriate. Huber believed that Jongekryg really suits the essence of the role. “[Leeza] is childlike. She has that stature, and she has a funness about her. Leeza has the charm to be Michael. She is not inhibited by excessive growth right now. (laughter) She is very fun and energetic,” Huber said.


This incarnation of the musical is bound to be humorous and entertaining. Despite the unorthodox choices that have been implemented into the show, the production team, cast, crew, and pit are adapting nicely.


Peter Pan takes flight in the WO PAC on November 10, 11, 12, 17 and 18. “Peter Pan is about going back to that time in our lives when were still innocent before we stopped believing”  Huber said, capturing the essence of the show. “When we really, really believed in all these magic things in the world.” Who could ask for anything more?