Pete(HER)Pan: Reimagining, redefining, and reconnecting in a new Neverland

Theaters, schools, and most performing arts organizations may be closed, but musical theater is most certainly #notcancelled. Musicals at Home is the brainchild of Broadway actors, Kirsten Wyatt and Ben Liebert. Performers of all ages and from all across the country participate in a musical production together—while still quarantined in their homes. Here’s how it works…First, Wyatt and Liebert provide a script (courtesy of the playwrights and rights holders). Next, composers and musicians contribute underscoring or tracks. Anyone can submit an audition video…and everyone is cast! Then Wyatt and Liebert edit the contributions together into one magical creative collaboration of theater!

The team’s first production, “Sherlock Holmes,” was a hit. Next up is “Pete(HER)Pan,” an imaginative retelling of the beloved “Peter Pan” story through the eyes of Wendy’s precocious daughter, Jane. The project was originally commissioned in 2017 and has since been performed at New York Theatre Barn, Northern Stage in Vermont, Pace New Musicals, and in a reading for Cleveland Musical Theatre featuring Alice Ripley as Captain Hook. With book by Melvin Tunstall and score by Douglas Lyons, “Pete(HER)Pan” honors the magic of the original work, but adds a 2020-twist. “It’s a new Neverland,” explains Tunstall, who wanted to stay true to the heart and soul of the J.M. Barrie classic (which premiered back in 1904). “Peter was always played by women on Broadway anyway, and this time the girl is the hero.” Lyons adds a Caribbean funk/pop score to the mix and the job of choreographer is shared between an all-female choreographer team: Shea Sullivan, Alison Solomon, Brittney Griffin, and Val “Ms Vee” Ho. “Douglas and Melvin’s work is always about making sure voices are heard,” says Shea Sullivan. “It’s so important to stand on the shoulders of those who came before us and add diversity and inclusivity into the mix.”

Broadway is a small, small world—Tunstall actually went to college with Musicals from Home co-founder, Kirsten Wyatt. When Tunstall and Lyons decided to offer “Pete(HER)Pan” to Musicals from Home, the response was incredible—with more than triple the submissions of “Sherlock Holmes.” Tunstall and Lyons admit that, going into this project, they didn’t really know what to expect. The goal was to inspire the community during this scary time, but no one quite knew what the final product was going to look like…

With Musicals from Home, one might say that the creative team extends far beyond the authors, directors, and choreographers—Everyone is part of the creative team! Participants are encouraged to use their imagination—gender bend the characters, play all the parts yourself or with your family, use puppets, make fun costumes and sets, etc. “You get to be costume designer, prop designer, etc.,” says Tunstall. Sullivan adds, “It’s about using your imagination and sharing your voice. Making it ‘your own’ brings a new level of excitement.” Tunstall, Lyons, Sullivan, and co. provide the script, score, musical accompaniment tracks, stage direction, and instructional videos for the choreography. Beyond that, the actors are free to show off their creativity. The only “rules” are to follow the script, score, and costume guidelines (characters wear distinct colors so the audience can identify who’s who with such a large cast).

“Pete(HER)Pan’s” cast, in fact, has over 75 actors from young kids to…well, kids at heart. Tunstall adds, “You have young kids from Minnesota and Alabama and Iowa who can say, ‘I’m in a show with a Broadway actor!’” Some of the Broadway cameos include Nathan Salstone, Crystal Kellog, Yasmeen Sulieman, Bret Shuford, Stephen Hanna, Jessica Hendy, and Andrew Cristi.

“We’ve seen the teaser video, and this is so much bigger than we could have ever imagined,” Tunstall says. When’s the last time we saw a cast of 75 in a Broadway show? When is there ever a big enough budget to hire four choreographers? How often can people from all over the country—of all ages and experiences—come together to perform and share the art they love? Musicals from Home is making the impossible possible.

Right now, we are being challenged to be creative—in new and exciting ways. Of course, nothing can compare to the magic of live theater. But in this day and age, it’s important to reconnect with our inner child and remember: If you can’t travel to see a Broadway show, put one on in your living room! “There’s something about everything stopping,” says Lyons. “We—as a community—have to reckon with ourselves at this time. We’re redefining the way theater is done. When I was watching the teaser, I was feeling feelings not just because it’s my piece, but because when individual artists collectively come together…that’s magic.”

Over 11 decades since its first performance, the “Peter Pan” fairytale continues to resonate with audiences and inspire performers and creators. Especially in times of crisis, the arts have the power to connect us on a deeper level. Everything about Musicals from Home is pro bono. “Everyone involved gives from the goodness of their hearts,” says Tunstall. “And our world could use a little more giving right now. Yes, there are tragedies happening around us, but it’s important to also acknowledge the good things.”

“Pete(HER)Pan” will be released on Thursday, May 14th on Musicals from Home’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. Be sure to tune in for the premiere via a Facebook live watch party! For more information about Musicals from Home, visit www.musicalsfromhome.com.

© 2020 by Mary Callahan