CEDAR GROVE, NJ - “I pressed play and that was it!” That was Director Jennifer Jessen-Foose’s reaction after stumbling upon the song There’s Something in the Air Tonight from Peter Pan, a Musical Adventure while scrolling through her music app. “I’ve always wanted to do Peter Pan in some form and this one fell into my lap, literally.”
Jessen-Foose’s Peter Pan search began last August and led her to this version of J.M Barrie’s timeless tale of the boy who never grew up. The show, with music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe and book by Willis Hall, was first broadcast in 2001 as the New Year’s Eve concert on BBC3. A fuller, semi-staged version with the London Symphony Orchestra was mounted at the Royal Festival Hall over Christmas 2002. Since then, Stiles and Drewe have extensively revised the production, bringing to life the magical world of Neverland with spectacular scenes of flying, swashbuckling and fantasy.
“I knew this was what I was looking for because the 1954 version (starring Mary Martin as Peter) although very successful in other schools and can carry you away just as much, didn’t have a score with as many opportunities for mixed gender casting except for Peter Pan. In this, the musical adventure, Hook has three songs, the Lost Boys have their own song, and the Pirates are featured throughout the show. It just opened up so many doors.”
Finding the right show to do is a lengthy and taxing process. She reads script perusals, listens to scores and weighs the pros and cons of each show. “Peter Pan, a Musical Adventure was the one that came out on top.”
“We are a small school, so I have to choose a show that is appropriate for the voices that we currently have. Also, I try to choose things that are going to be appealing to the kids. We work on it for several months, so I always want to choose something that is going to be enriching for me too. I find that I look at a lot of musicals and if I’m not carried away by the score, it probably means that it’s not something that I should be directing or introducing to the kids.”
The choice of this show presents unique challenges. The instrumentation in the score features contemporary styles such as rhythm sections with highly percussive moments mixed with world music sounds such as the use of ethnic flutes giving the music a feel of being in Ireland. “A lot of it will be played by regular flute but our reed player is going to experiment with a few options including wooden flutes because there’s a Celtic feel to a lot of the score.”
“So that’s a challenge and of course, the flying. I feel like my hands are tied because I want to give (the cast) direction but the flight company, Flying by Foy, does all that for Peter, Wendy, Michael and John in the flying scene, and they stage the fight between Hook and Peter Pan for safety reasons. They stage for any show that uses their equipment. They require a full day of installation, then three days each of three to four-hour training for the flight operators and the flying students.”
“Then we’ve put another challenge on ourselves by casting so many females. We’ve recruited a lot of guys, definitely, for this show, but most of the songs are written for tenors and baritones. To overcome that, a few of the songs have been transposed, and we modify some of the lower notes.” Both Peter Pan and Captain Hook are being played by females: seniors Ava Silverman and Francesca Catrone, respectively.
Each school year, Jessen-Foose, who is celebrating her 20th year teaching in the Cedar Grove school district, chooses a theme that serves as the backdrop for her students’ classwork, choir and band concerts, as well as the spring musical. This year is no different.
“Our theme this year of “Telling the Story” is carried out with Peter Pan and transfers to our class of 2020 who’ve been doing shows with me since 2010. It’s a challenge growing up and saying goodbye to students. This show is tender; just a really special way of bonding with the class before they graduate and having that one last moment of childhood before they go on into their adulthood. We’re having fun using our imaginations, being a kid still for just a few more weeks.”
Peter Pan, a Musical Adventure, opens on Thursday, February 27 at 7:00 pm in the Mary McGuire Auditorium at Cedar Grove High School. There will be four performances.
Tickets to the show are on sale now at CGHS.Booktix,com. CGHS Music Matters, the parent organization for the music department is hosting a Peter Pan-Cake Breakfast & Baskets Fundraiser on Saturday, February 22. For more information, contact Kelly Tencza at firstname.lastname@example.org.