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'Peter Pan' takes flight as last musical in summer theater.

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Rick Wesley, center, plays Captain Hook, in “Peter Pan,” the final musical in the Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre at Shenandoah University in Winchester. — Rich Cooley/Daily

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Vassiliki Ellwood, as Tiger Lily, left, and Robin Higginbotham, as Peter Pan, rehearse a scene from “Peter Pan.” — Rich Cooley/Daily

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Alex Jane Bailey, in stripes, as Wendy Darling, rehearses a scene with the Lost Boys and the Indian girls. — Rich Cooley/Daily

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Rick Wesley, as Captain Hook, leads a troupe of pirate musicians during a rehearsal of "Peter Pan." — Rich Cooley/Daily

By Josette Keelor -- jkeelor@nvdaily.com

The Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre at Shenandoah University will challenge imaginations this summer in its final musical, "Peter Pan."

Based on the book by J.M. Barrie, "Peter Pan" includes music from the 1954 stage production starring Mary Martin, said director Hal Herman.

The theater's first three shows of the summer catered more to adults, but "Peter Pan" is a show everyone can enjoy, the cast said.

"It's a story for young and old, you know, 'Peter Pan' isn't just for kids," said Rick Wesley, who plays Captain James Hook. He said he enjoys the story more now than ever before.

Alex Jane Bailey, who plays Wendy Darling, said it's "really romantic in a fantastical way."

The story of a boy who refuses to grow up, "Peter Pan" follows the adventures of Peter and the Darling family.

Peter teaches the three Darling children, Wendy, John and Michael, to fly with fairy dust and happy thoughts, and leads them to Neverland, where they encounter the Lost Boys, a tribe of Indians and a shipload of pirates led by Captain Hook.

"It's amazing getting to play a role like this," said Robin Higginbotham, who plays Peter. "Mary Martin [was] an amazing icon."

Other roles include John, played by Sean Dunavant; Tiger Lily, played by Vassiliki Ellwood; and Smee, played by John Baker.

The play includes 13 children, including Jordan Armel as Michael.

Bryn Harvey, who plays Mrs. Darling, said working with children makes performing the show even more fun.

"These kids just bring in so much energy," she said. "They just make the rest of us rise to the occasion."

The theater tries to offer at least one show a season that will include children, she said, which helps increase community interest in the theater.

This summer's choice is a natural for children since "Peter Pan" is more fantastical than the first three shows.

"These people fly," Herman said, "and they've gotten training on flying."

The cast has spent several weeks with the company Flying by Foy, he said, and still devotes a couple hours a day to the task.

"For a long time I think they were the only company that did this type of flying," Herman said, explaining that the theater hires them every time they need flying lessons.

Flying by Foy also taught the cast to sword fight, Higginbotham said.

"It was part of the flying," she said. She and Wesley have to fly while fighting, she said.

"It's fun for them," Herman said. "It's not fun for us [the crew]. This is flying. All skills are needed," he said.

Matthew Gose is in charge of the play's earth-bound choreography, and brings experience from four other productions of "Peter Pan," including the 2000 and 1992 productions at Shenandoah University.

"I try to do something new each time," Gose said.

Baker said he did not realize when he took on the role of first officer to Captain Hook how much fun being a part of "Peter Pan" would be.

"It's fun because he's funny and stupid," said Baker, who played Professor Callahan in "Legally Blonde."

"Hook is often viewed as the quintessential villain," said Wesley, "and I think that's true. But he's also so much like Pan, he's like the dark side of Pan. He goes on forever as well."

In the tradition of the stage play, Wesley also plays the role of Mr. Darling -- "the emotional husband."

Switching from father to pirate isn't as difficult as switching back again, he said, adding, "It's a fairly quick change back." But he says he's not worried.

"I totally welcome those kinds of challenges," he said.

Harvey, too, has dual roles, portraying an older version of Wendy at the play's end.

"We all get very teary eyed at the end," she said. "It's a story about growing up."

"Peter Pan" will take the stage at Shenandoah University from July 25 to Aug. 5. Performances are at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and at 7 p.m. Sunday. Matinees are at 2 p.m. on Saturdays and on Aug. 1. For more information, call 665-4569.

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