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Review: Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre flies high with 'Peter Pan'

| Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, 12:39 p.m.
Rich Sofranko
Gabrielle Thurlow and Christopher Budzynski as Peter and Wendy fly in the nursery in Pittburgh Ballet Theatre's production of 'Peter Pan'
Rich Sofranko
Gabrielle Thurlow as Tinker Bell in Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's production of 'Peter Pan'
Rich Sofranko
Diana Yohe as Wendy with Nana the dog in Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's production of 'Peter Pan'
Rich Sofranko
Luca Sbrizzi as Peter Pan and William Moore as Hook in a battle scene in Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's production of 'Peter Pan'

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's revival of the Jorden Morris staging of “Peter Pan” is a delightful and action-packed entertainment well designed for families, including young boys and girls. The ballet first performed this version, which features spectacular flying sequences, in October 2011.

The dancers seen at the second of seven performances in this run brought the story vividly to life from start to finish. The ballet rotates the cast from performance to performance.

Morris uses a fluid mix of pantomime and dance to tell the story and is equally adept at charm and adventure. His telling is quite detailed, and it's well worth reading the synopsis before the performance to appreciate it fully.

The show starts with cozy domesticity in the home of the Darling family in London, where Wendy plays with her dog Nana and her brothers John and Michael. Diana Yohe brought charm and spunkiness to Wendy in the Feb. 13 matinee. In the first part of the scene, she danced with the clarity and pure line natural to elegance, but did so in an unstuffy way. Later in scene, as she played at sword fighting with her brothers and they all resisted their parents' attempts to get them to bed, Yohe showed her range of acting skills is equally persuasive.

Samuel Opsal was delightful as Nana, a very alert pet.

After the parents have gone to a dinner party and the kids are asleep, Tinker Bell arrives to look for Peter's shadow, but when he arrives he can't sew it back on. Wendy awakens to his crying and offers to help, which leads to an invitation to Neverland.

Gabrielle Thurlow gave a surprisingly full dimensional portrayal of Tinker Bell, both generous and forceful, and always quick in dramatic reaction. Thurlow's dancing encompassed it all.

One of the many strengths of the Morris version of “Peter Pan” is the individuality he achieves for the characters.

Luca Sbrizzi's performance of Peter was an intoxicating blend of athleticism and dramatic characterization. His flying sequences, using equipment from the company Flying by Foy, were never more spectacular than his flying somersaults. But he also was expert at sword fighting with pirates while off the ground.

The scenes in Neverland are vividly staged. Conflicts with the Pirates are never too scary. Tinker Bell's jealously of Wendy and anger with Peter over his attention to Wendy actually gives her an opportunity, admittedly at the last minute, to show growth by changing her mind.

William Moore's most spectacular leap was a joyous one in Act 2 as Mr. Darling, but he was also imposing at Captain Hook.

Marisa Grywalski played Tiger Lily in Neverland. She also played Mrs. Darling. Her most memorable moment was a long solo at the start of Act 2 in which she expresses her despair and longing over her missing children.

Three groups of dancers from the corps de ballet, the Pirates, Lost Boys and Fairies, were well differentiated. The most beautiful dance, per se, was by the eight Fairies.

Morris assembled the score for his ballet, which includes excerpts from masterpieces by Edward and Benjamin Britten, from recordings. The other English music is invariably pleasant and lively.

“Peter Pan” will be repeated at 8 p.m. Feb. 19, 2 and 8 p.m. Feb. 20, and 2 p.m. Feb. 21 at the Benedum Center, Downtown. Admission is $28 to $110. Details: 412-456-6666 or pbt.org.

Mark Kanny is a Tribune Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com.

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