'Peter Pan' review: Flying into the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts

Emily Dowdell stars in the title role of

Emily Dowdell stars in the title role of "Peter Pan" at Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, opening July 12, 2014.

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The first thing you need to know about "Peter Pan," the musical, is that he -- rather, she -- flies.

The second thing, by way of confession, is that I may not be an impartial observer regarding this revival at Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, nor perhaps, any other stage.

I was 5 when Disney's "Peter Pan" animation first appeared on screen and 8 when I glimpsed Mary Martin in glorious black and white on NBC. (Please, don't do the math.) Still, my most vivid memories are sensory: I recall the fragrance of the taffy I munched while reading "Peter Pan" the comic book. Early beach literature.

So forgive me if Peter's rendition of "Neverland" brought a tear to my eye. Not to take anything away from Emily Dowdell's spirited portrayal of the never-grow-up boy. She never once -- well, once, yes -- resorted to male impersonation to achieve a boyish range. (That exception occurs when Wendy asks if Peter would be the make-believe father to her make- believe mother.)

By then, to the delight of kids and adults in the audience, Peter has taken flight -- courtesy of ZFX Flying Effects -- along with Wendy (Elizabeth Bays) and her brothers (Christopher Milo and Sebastian Jolley).

As directed by DJ Salisbury, Dowdell is as spunky as any "I've Gotta Crow" boy should be. We can only imagine that, in Neverland, Peter's voice hasn't, nor ever will, change from robust soprano. As for Captain Hook, there's nothing subtle about Mark DiConzo's portrayal, nor Bobby Montaniz's comic sycophant, Smee. Bringing complexity to Hook, as we've sadly witnessed in Dustin Hoffman's movie interpretation, invites disaster. He's a bad guy whose only excuse is crockodilaphobia.

We don't favor recorded scores, but if the trade-offs are quality flying effects -- Peter, Wendy and her brothers are airborne during the show -- plus a dreamlike set/video peephole by Christopher and Justin Swader, the deal with the devil may well be worth it in the real world of regional-theater economics.

If there's any subtext to "Peter Pan," it would be the laser-beam character of Tinker Bell (lighting design, Chris Creevy). Don't forget to applaud when her light's about to go out. We think the show would go on, but who knows?

WHAT "Peter Pan" by Carolyn Leigh, Moose Charlap, Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Jule Stein based on James M. Barrie's play

WHEN | WHERE 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday through Aug. 24, Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St.

INFO $20-$30; 631-724-3700, smithtownpac.org

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