by Leta Tremblay · August 22, 2015
Joey Lozada, Destinee Rea, Luis E. Mora | Guillermo Laporta
Pedro Pan opens in Havana with bright colors, upbeat Cuban music, and a cast of seven performers dancing and singing like a cast of thirty. This high energy and joyful opening number already gives a taste of what this new musical will look and feel like on the bigger Broadway stage.
Which is fitting because Rebecca Aparicio (book and direction) and Stephen Anthony Elkins (music and lyrics) have beautifully woven together a larger than life story inspired by (according to press notes) “the journey of over 14,000 children sent to the U.S. without their parents to escape communist Cuba” in 1960-1962: Operacíon Pedro Pan. Aparicio and Elkins cleverly capitalize on this reference to the story of Peter Pan by inviting us into the experience of one child, Pedro, as he flies away from the only home he’s ever known to his own Neverland, the island of New York City.
“Promise me that you won’t grow up.” Pedro’s Mami, played by Aparicio, implores as she sends her only son off on this unknown adventure.
An incredible cast breathes life into this classic tale, as we’ve never heard it before. Luis E. Mora tackles the role of protagonist Pedro with great heart and childlike vulnerability. He carries the show with ease and it’s natural to identify with him. Amanda Castaños brings Pedro’s Tia Lily to life with pizazz and charm as she shares with him what NYC has to offer. Joey Lozada as Roger, Pedro’s first new friend and a fellow immigrant, is charismatic and honest. And the requisite Wendy (because what is Peter Pan without Wendy?) is boldly played by Destinee Rea with spunk, humor, and a killer singing voice.
In addition to the historical context that Pedro Pan is told from, there are also elements of intolerance and racism portrayed that we still struggle with today. To escape bullying on the playground, Pedro and Roger form the Lost Boys Club in which they pretend to be New Yorkers and promise never to speak Spanish so that they might fit in. Roger, hailing from Mexico, reminds us that America is the land of immigrants, but only the kind that they like. It takes Wendy, a black girl from Alabama fleeing the violence of the civil rights movement, to remind them that their culture is important, beautiful, and worth protecting.
The depth of story telling is brilliantly enhanced by engaging multimedia images and video projected onto folding screens at the back of the stage bringing life to a modest set. Not only do they create a sense of place during simply staged scenes, but they also reflect the emotional life of the characters as they sing. Together with Elkins enchanting score, they transport us viscerally into the experience of the moment.
Pedro Pan is a well crafted and excellently executed theatrical experience capitalizing on a familiar children’s story to draw us in and bring attention to an important moment in U.S. history. We are with Pedro every step of the way through his journey, even the most difficult moments, as he searches for a new place to call home.