Pleasant Hill provides a Princess for Peter Pan, as Heidi Buehler (cast as Princess Tiger Lilly), hopes to stay forever in “Neverland”!

Photo : Heidi Buehler by Kevin Berne

We’ve got two engaging productions to report on this week, ranging from the spectacular, exciting and high flying “Peter Pan” in San Francisco, to those “Fabulous Follies” in Antioch. Join me now as we explore the “ups and downs” in theatrical entertainment available to you this week!

Peter Pan has to be first and foremost on my reporting journal this week for several reasons, the first being that it has provided a terrific opportunity for the very lovely and talented local dancer, Heidi Buehler, a Pleasant Hill resident, to land in pluperfect fashion in J. M. Barrie’s newly envisioned and computer enhanced “Neverland”. Talk about a childhood dream coming true, once again, another talented young lady from our own neighborhood is thrilled to make a giant step forward in her professional career. This new production of Peter Pan, is imported from London with many of its original cast members intact, and is all that the hype extols; fanciful, fun, exciting, engaging and a visual adventure to be long remembered!

As another adult who never really wanted to “grow up”, I have to say that this superbly crafted production brings the beloved story of another boy, Peter Pan, who promised he would never grow up to the epitome of excellence in an exciting new venue in San Francisco. I still remember the beautiful pictures illustrating the book in my first encounter with Peter Pan. I have always loved the intriguing story of Peter and Wendy and John and Michael and their adventures in Neverland as high on my list of childhood memories. As an adult and reviewer of theater, I have been able to relive the experience several times, but none more exciting than through this production now anchored at Ferry Park in San Francisco.

Unique to this production is its state of the art staging reminiscent of modern musical theaters but going one giant step forward, this time leaping through the theatrical canvas into a computer generated imaginarium above and beyond anything capable of being achieved visually before. We’ve come a long way in visual projection since the movie “Oklahoma” and Todd – AO (the enhanced 70mm film format) in 1955. “Lawrence of Arabia”, “My Fair Lady” and “The Sound of Music” were films that pulled us inexorably into the movie action like never before and very quickly we became more and more enamored with the prospect of being pulled even more deeply into the fabric of the story ourselves, like interstellar travelers to new worlds of visual possibilities.

Efforts to bring the audience into a sense of oneness and interaction with the action and characters on screen have evolved from the exquisite quality of 70mm film to Panavision (a 65mm film process), to a modern day horizontal variant of 70mm film projection known as IMAX. 3 D movies and bi-colored glasses allowed an even closer encounter into this world of awesome depth and perception and exhilaration. As computer speeds and memory and 360 degree capable camera lenses has evolved, the advent of computer generated imaging (CGI) has made popular and possible a new kind of projection that is fully utilized in this awe-inspiring theater in the round. The theatrical wizards behind the creation of Peter Pan, now allow us through 360 degree imaging above our heads, to soar through the bedroom window of the Darling residence, fly headlong over the streets of Victorian London and emerge in the green lush landscape of Barrie’s wondrous “Neverland”. No longer anchored to a one dimension world of flat film, no longer restricted to a flat stage and ordinary sets, this Peter Pan allows our imagination to soar as never before. However, on the problem side of this type of staging, my wife felt much too distracted by the lack of focus one normally finds with creative lighting drawing one’s attention to the central action, stating that she felt distracted by the various visual effects and being able to clearly see everyone in the audience. She remarked that there is an advantage in selective lighting and sound to draw your attention more into the story. In fact she was so distracted by being able to see so much going on, that she almost entirely missed the entry of the mermaids who descended down onto the stage on long strands of material from the ceiling area above. While I personally was not affected so much by the various distractions and the ability to see “so much”, I am aware that other people were similarly distracted from my conversations with them after the show.

Yes, the story is basically the same delightful story of the four Darling children, off on a wonderful adventure, accompanying a magical youth who has harnessed “fairy power” to fly to a rollicking adventure land where pirates threaten, Indians beckon, boys bedevil and mermaids serenade. Ah, but the Crocodile that goes Tick Tock is even more wonderful as a coat-hanger and clothes pin constructed life-sized puppet creature always chasing the elusive and evil Capt’n Hook, salivating for a tasty bite!

The cast is excellent, including Abby Ford (as Wendy Darling), David Poyner (as Michael Darling), Arthur Wilson (as John Darling), Shannon Warrick (as Mrs. Darling), Johnathan Hyde (who plays quite capably both Captian Hook and Mr. Darling), Itxaso Moreno (as Tinker Bell), Heidi Buehler (as Tigerlily), and of course, Nate Fallows (as Peter Pan) whom I especially enjoyed. I wish I had more column space to adequately address all of the terrific cast and to enumerate the many brilliantly and cleverly conceived additions in this productions staging, but I simply have to tell you that it is an opportunity for you to take your children and grandchildren and yourselves to experience a remarkable and splendid theatrical adventure. The children in the audience truly were enthralled! There are other productions where I have gotten more into the characterizations as portrayed the actors and there have been other actors who were more superlative in their roles, but the overall experience of this production is hard to argue with!

I had the opportunity to catch up with Heidi Buehler last week by telephone and learned that a neighbor and friend, Nancy Sales, had told her about the opportunity to try out for the part, she did and was chosen. Heidi told me that she has lived in Pleasant Hill all of her life, and while a longtime student of ballet and a dancer with regional ballet companies, she had never really considered becoming involved in performance theatre, but now that this opportunity has come up, she discovered that she “truly loves it!”. She went on to reveal that she has danced with the Black Diamond Ballet Company in Antioch, The Anne Bluethenthal Dancers in San Francisco, The Peninsula Ballet Company in San Mateo and also performed in our Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek. She loves the company and cast and hopes that this experience for her in Neverland, never ends!

This production of Peter Pan is created by Charlie Burnell, Matthew Churchill and Robert Butters, and is being produced in the world’s first state-of-the-art 360 degree CGI theatrical pavilion tent, capable of seating comfortably around 1350 audience members. The entire tent interior, comprising of 15,000 square feet of Hi-resolution video projection screen surface, brings you right into the theatrical experience as it has never been done before! This theatre in the round creates some great opportunities and obstacles in projection and set design that had to be overcome to make this venue viable. I have to compliment this company on their clever staging, their minimal “flying” equipment design and implementation that has allowed all of principal characters to fly and soar above and beyond what could be imagined. The unique “over the outside” tent suspension system allows all in the audience to see everything without encumbrance, distraction or impediment. Every seat is excellent. Karen and I sat in the second row from the top and we could see everything perfectly, in fact, perhaps even better than some of the seats at the lower levels. There are no bad seats in this theater.

Performances continue on Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7 p.m., on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., with performances at 2 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays and at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets range in price between $30 and $85 with a special discount of $20 for children 12 years of age and under. The Theater is located across from the Ferry Building at 200 Embarcadero Boulevard in Ferry Park (aka/ the Justin Herman Plaza) near the intersection of Washington Street. Public transportation (BART and MUNI) is recommended as public parking is scattered around the area. We found parking about a block further away at the corner of Broadway and Embarcadero for a flat fee of $8. There were other lots closer to the theater whose price average $15 to $20 for the evening. Check out the web site at for more information call 1-888-PPANTIX (1-888-772-6849), Daily, 10am-6pm.

Antioch’s exquisite El Campanile Theater hosts the Vagabond Players doing it all in their “Fabulous Follies”

The Vagabond Players are staging in Antioch what they call their “Fabulous Follies”. While it is described by the literature as a “musical review”, it is much more than that as the show includes a lot of dancing and dancing skits, sometimes even a dance routine that is nothing more than an excuse to move props on or off stage. Generally, when I think of a “musical review”, I think of the songs by a particular writer (Gershwin) or composer or of a particular genre (Jazz) or a particular time period (1940’s and 1950’s). This show has no particular genre, just some terrific entertainers that include singers, both solo artists and singing groups and a variety of dancers that do a mixture of song and dances. The musical variety includes turn of the century barbershop, show tunes from musicals, single hits and solo artists (ie: Frank Sinatra), comedy song routines, acapella/doowop and barbershop harmony, rock and roll, rhythm and blues, mo-town favorites and even country hits.

The Vagabond Players Theatrical Company has set its sights on entertaining the senior audience and often includes productions that are geared specifically to encourage senior actors to be an active and an integral part of their productions. This production is a gathering of everyone who probably has ever acted in or wanted to get up on stage and try their wings. While there are a number of truly professional performers or previously full time professional performers in this show, director Sharon Redman and her co-director, Jennifer Hughes, a professional dance choreographer, have obviously issued an open invitation to all comers, professional and non-professional alike.

There are some sterling performances from song stylists such as, Jason Emanuel Britton, Ella Wolfe, Terry D’Emidio, Rhonda Taylor and Anna-Lisa Muroaka and an acapella group who call themselves “House Blend”. There are some excellent dance routines both serious and comedic by such talented people as Jennifer Hughes, Jennifer Peabody and Terry D’Emidio. There are a number of guys who I would not classify as dancers, but they are terrifically entertaining as members of dance routines, including Shawn Bonnington, Bill Dietz, Charlie Pitak, Josh Thorpe and Norm Gilbert who add significantly to the overall levity of the evening. While I don’t have space to give adequate kudos to all who deserve them, the show provided a very full evening of diverse entertainment.

On the other hand, directors Redmond and Hughes are like the gal in Oklahoma who “Jes’ Cain’t Say No!” and should have said no to a number of the numbers to cut the show down to a reasonable size, as it ran from a little after 8 p.m. until 11 p.m. before it was over. Much too, too long!

This fun filled "Fabulous Follies" evening of entertainment continues next weekend in the El Campanil, located at 602 West 2nd street in old downtown Antioch, Saturday, May 15th at 2 pm and 8 p.m., then again on Sunday the 16th for a 2 p.m. matinee. Tickets are $20 for general admission, $15 for seniors, and $10 for youth, 17 and under. Tickets may be purchased at the ticket office next door to the theater, Monday through Friday between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., or again up to one hour before show time, or by phone at 757-9500. It you have never been to the El Campanil then I highly suggest you do so. This gorgeous old theatre has been recently restored to its early grandeur and is an absolute gem of a theater. Please go on line and check out this theater at . They provide many opportunities for excellent entertainment.