'Peter Pan' flies in Williamsburg

Two very different tellings of “Peter Pan,” J.M. Barrie’s quintessential story of childhood imagination and wonder, will soon soar into Williamsburg.

The Williamsburg Players will present the British version of the musical, directed by Peter Natale and featuring Abigail Curran as the boy who never grew up. The production, which features an innovative score, will open this Friday, July 17 for a two-week engagement at the James-York Playhouse.

The StageLights production, “Peter Pan, Jr.” will run July 25-26 at the Williamsburg Library Theater. It is directed by Richard Parker and features Lucie Griffith in the title role. StageLights is presenting the Disney version of the musical, featuring familiar music from the animated movie.

Natale, who directed the musical in 2009 in Smithfield, is committed to giving those who attend a visual spectacle. That’s why he has hired the internationally renowned company Flying By Foy to do the rigging, enabling Peter, Wendy, Michael and John to take flight.

“These are the same people who flew Sandy Duncan, Cathy Rigby and Mary Martin in the same title role,” Natale said in a recent interview. “They area doing the rigging and will teach the fliers how to fly the actors.”

According to the Flying by Foy website, the company has provided flying effects for Broadway, London’s West End, professional and non-profit theatres, churches, theme parks, cruise ships, concert tours, industrial events, feature films and TV.

“I am very lucky that the man who installed the rigging for me is the same flight director who worked with me in Smithfield,” Natale said. “I am very fortunate.”

The kids won’t be flying in the StageLights version, instead using whimsical choreography to suggest flight.

Both shows will feature large casts, and ironically, have the same choreographer, Arianna Heck. After working as assistant choreographer on Players’ production of “Annie” last summer, Natale asked Heck if she would choreograph “Peter Pan.” She accepted, and later was asked by StageLights, giving her double duty.

“It really is two different productions,” Heck said with a laugh. “There isn’t any choreography that I can take from one place to the next. It is like two different shows telling the same story. It is wonderful to work with both groups.”

Heck’s own daughter, six-year-old Lilianna is in the Players show, following her role as an orphan in last year’s “Annie.” She is one of the younger cast members in that show, which features both kids and adults. Having older performers and a more complex score has opened the door for more sophisticated moves.

“The sound of the Players production is a little more intricate, so the movement has to match that,” she said.

Judy Zwelling, who is musical director for StageLights, has been impressed with the vocal prowess of the cast, some of whom have been with the group for several years.

“The kids are doing a great job,” Zwelling said. “They are really amazing.”

The music will be played by a live orchestra, led by Zwelling.

The orchestra for the Players’ version of “Peter Pan” will be onstage as it has been in past productions including “Chicago” and “Annie.”

Natale is enthusiastic about what audiences will see at the James York Playhouse. “This is big stuff for us,” he said. “I try to make it exciting. I put a lot of effort into this.”

Zwelling hopes people will attend both productions. “The Player’s show starts the weekend before, they can go see that and then come see us and see a completely different show the next weekend,” she said.

Want to go? The Williamsburg Players production of “Peter Pan” runs July 18-27 on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the James-York Playhouse. Adult tickets are $20, kids, $10. Visit www.williamsburgplayers.org or call 229-0431. The StageLights production will be at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday July 25-26. There is also a 2 p.m. matinee, Saturday, July 26. Tickets are $8 at the door or can be obtained by e-mailing stagelightstheatre@gmail.com