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Toby's takes audience on uplifting tour in joyous 'Peter Pan'

Jace Franco and MaryKate Brouillet in "Peter Pan," continuing at Toby's Dinner Theatre of Columbia.
Jace Franco and MaryKate Brouillet in "Peter Pan," continuing at Toby's Dinner Theatre of Columbia.

"Peter Pan" has been a magical tale since its December 1954 Broadway opening. For more than 60 years in countless revivals, the story of a boy who refuses to grow up has retained its charm, and is sparkling again in the current production at Toby's Dinner Theatre of Columbia.

Bringing their own vision to this iconic musical, based on James M. Barrie's 1904 story, co-directors Toby Orenstein and Mark Minnick create an evening of pure enchantment, filled with winsome magic and high adventure. In Toby's in-the-round space simultaneous, synchronized action brings the story to life, from an Indian invasion to an arriving pirate ship to the lively antics of lost boys.

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Most amazing in Toby's intimate venue is Minnick's flight choreography, filled with joyous freedom and infectious excitement, and delivered with transcending grace.

As executed in the star role by MaryKate Brouillet, Peter's flying arrival at the Darling family home through the upstairs bedroom window is the most memorable star entrance at Toby's in recent memory. Brouillet was unforgettable as Eponine in Toby's "Les Miserables" — particularly in the number, "On My Own."

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Her star rises even further as Peter Pan, a role historically played by actresses.

Brouillet projects Peter's defining bravado in declaring his refusal to grow up and assume adult responsibilities, cherishing his freedom to pursue adventure. Brouillet's Broadway-caliber voice fills the theater with spunky self-assurance in "I Gotta Crow" and "I'm Flying," and invests "Neverland" with palpable longing.

Brouillet's performance is supported by an all-star ensemble of Toby's repertory group. Some brilliant casting is evident in the choice of David Bosley-Reynolds playing the dual roles of Mr. Darling and Captain Hook. Bosley-Reynolds gives Mr. Darling a "Downton Abbey"-like assurance, complete with an aristocratic English accent and subtle paternal warmth that shines through his reserve.

In sharp contrast, his portrayal of Captain Hook is broadly cartoonish and deliciously droll, redefining the villainous pirate leader as more foppish than fearsome — and nonstop hilarious. Bosley-Reynolds' impressive baritone is well displayed in several delightful numbers, amusingly amorous in his "Oh, Mysterious Lady" duet with Peter.

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Hook's crew of pirates are portrayed by a stellar ensemble including Helen Hayes award-winner David James as Hook's comic sidekick Smee; with Helen Hayes nominees Darren McDonnell as Cecco and Jeffrey Shankle as Starkey.

Outstanding in "Hook's Tango" and "Hook's Tarantella," superb dancer Andre Hinds adds delightful comic touches to his amazing dance performances. In this fifth Toby's performance, Hinds also takes on Master of Ceremonies duties, proving adept at greeting audiences with his easy charm.

Two featured debuting Toby's players are Katie Tyler, a talented actress, dancer and singer who soars gracefully along with Peter as Wendy Darling; and Amanda Leigh Corbett, who displays strong dance and vocal skills as Tiger Lily.

Besides Wendy, the other Darling children are played by Gavin Willard and Anderson Franco — who alternate in the role of Michael — and Jace Franco and Brian Rusk in role of John.

Other notable performances include RJ Pavel as Darling children's watchful Nana, a Newfoundland dog required to crawl around the floor and bark whenever intruders threaten the children's welfare. Pavel also plays Dibly, one of the lost boys.

Also playing double roles is Toby's excellent Heather Marie Beck —as Mrs. Darling, delivering a lovely "Tender Shepherd" lullaby, and later slithering as the fearsome crocodile.

The live orchestra is essential to the show's success, and here it is under the director of Brandon Fullenkamp. Also contributing to this production's overall excellence are costume designers Lawrence B. Munsey and Mary Quinn, who create substantial magic of their own.

"Peter Pan" continues through June 12 at Toby's Dinner Theatre of Columbia, 5900 Symphony Woods Road. Call 410-730-8311 or 301-596-6161 for showtimes, ticket information and reservations.

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