Peter Pan Flies to the Pablo Center

Rebecca Mennecke, photos by Andrea Paulseth

Dreams do come true, if only we wish hard enough. Eau Claire Children’s Theatre stages Peter Pan July 24-28.
Dreams do come true, if only we wish hard enough. Eau Claire Children’s Theatre stages Peter Pan July 24-28.

Everyone who remembers the story of Peter Pan knows all it takes to fly is a little faith, trust, and pixie dust.

But it’ll take a little more than pixie dust to make Allie Kangas fly in the upcoming performance of Peter Pan by the Eau Claire Children’s Theatre on July 24-28 – it will take an elaborate rigging system and the hard work of the rigging operators and tech team. 

“I am a little bit nervous, but I’m more excited than nervous,” said Kangas, the troupe’s costume designer, who plays the title character. “I basically have to put my life in their hands.” 

As they practice in a different area than their performance space, Kangas won’t be able to test out her flying skills until around dress rehearsal, she said. 

This is the fourth time ECCT has produced Peter Pan. And, with its 60-member cast, the show is a great way to go out with a bang at the end of the ECCT’s 30th anniversary season, executive director Wayne Marek said. 

Joe Burger, who plays Mr. Darling and Captain Hook, said Peter Pan was his first performance at the Eau Claire Children’s Theatre seven years ago. 

“It was really meaningful for me to revisit this show and this show specifically,” he said.

The musical follows the tale of Peter Pan, the Lost Boys, and the Darling children – Wendy, John, and Michael – as they face pirates, an Indian tribe, a crocodile, and the threat of growing up.   

Burger, who played Starkey, a pirate, in his first performance, said one of the keys to success in this musical tale is thinking about it through children’s eyes. 

“When you look at the pirates, they’re not necessarily mean, scary pirates,” Burger said. “Nor are they meant to be. It is inherently a kid’s show. And so, Captain Hook is very much a serious character, sure, but a goofy character on top of that – very over the top.” 

The roles of Mr. Darling and Captain Hook are meant to be played be the same actor, Burger said, because it shows “the dichotomy of the way these kids’ minds and imaginations (work).” It shows how they crave being youthful but they also need structure, he explained. 

Tennisha Sonsalla, who plays the “rough and tough” character Tiger Lily in the musical, said the cast has a diverse age range, from children aged eight, nine, 10, to mid-20s, mid-30s, 40s, and even people in their 50s. 

“I think being a little bit on the younger side, I tend to get into a little bit more hijinks with the kids than the adults do,” she said. “It’s a little bit more distracting for me because I like to have fun backstage. Sometimes we get a little rowdy.”

The younger kids are “killing it” with their lines, Sonsalla said. With rehearsals late at night on Monday through Thursdays, Sonsalla is amazed they’d give up their summer and spend late nights doing hard work with memorizing lines.  

“They must really love it,” she said. 

Sara Shellenberger, who plays Nana – the family’s beloved dog – said though the performance appeals to all ages, “children are the highlight.” It’s a sentiment the rest of the cast shares. 

“What’s neat about these young minds is that they can bring something new to the table,” Burger said. 

Eau Claire Children’s Theatre production of Peter Pan •  July 24-26, 7:30pm • July 27-28 1:30pm • RCU Theatre, Pablo Center at the Confluence, 128 Graham Ave. • $10 for kids 12 and under, $14 for students 13 and older with an ID, $20 for seniors, $24 for adults • purchase tickets at pablocenter.org • brochures for the ECCT’s 2019-20 season will be be available at performances