Live theater always is a bit of a high-wire act, but in few shows is that more true than “Peter Pan.”
The YES Company production of the J.M. Barrie classic about the high-flying adventures of a boy who never grew up will feature some of its cast soaring above the stage. The students have trained with a professional flying company to learn the wire work.
“I got kind of scared when I was flying higher than the set, but I knew the people who were flying me and I knew they would keep me safe,” said 9-year-old Standiford Elementary fourth-grader Megan Tallcott, who plays Tinker Bell. “After they lift you up, it can be scary, but when I go down, I feel like I want to do it again and again.”
The production opens tonight and runs through July 27 at the Gallo Center for the Arts.
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Since 1992, the Youth Entertainment Stage Company run through the Stanislaus County Office of Education has introduced students from around the region to the performing arts through a summer program that culminates in a performance. This marks the 23rd annual production and the first time the group has staged “Peter Pan.”
“I’ve been wanting to do ‘Peter Pan’ for years,” said YES Company founding artistic director/choreographer Melanee Wyatt. “But we haven’t been able to do it because either Broadway tours or local groups were producing it. But it is worth the wait because we have a beautiful cast now. I like the magic of the show, and we’re able to incorporate a lot of children as cast members.”
The YES Company staging has a cast of some 90 students who have been working since June 3. The free eight-week program takes the students, ranging from elementary to high school age, through training, team building and rehearsing for all aspects of production. Many students come back year after year, and alumni who have graduated often return to help out with the program during their summer breaks.
“YES Company is like a real family,” said 18-year-old recent Sierra High graduate Jacob Vaughan, who has been in the program since he was 9 and plays the pirate Smee in the production. “My dad says family you don’t choose. And that’s how it happens here. Melanee casts you together and you become a family. Everyone works and loves each other here.”
That close bond comes in handy for “Peter Pan,” which requires technical precision as key members of this year’s cast, including Tinker Bell, Peter Pan (14-year-old Sam Gerber), Wendy (16-year-old Julia Marson), John (13-year-old Seth Bondi) and Michael (11-year-old Michael Nuccio) do line work above the stage. The production features veterans and newcomers to the program, as well as younger performers from YES Kids and YES Kidettes to play the various Lost Boys, pirates, fairies, Indians, mermaids and other inhabitants of Neverland.
“YES Company is such a wonderful place – it’s about the friends you make here year after year,” said 16-year-old Turlock High junior Mara Patino, who plays Indian princess Tiger Lily. “You learn something new each year. Basically, it’s my second home.”
The YES Company show is based on the 1954 Tony-winning Broadway musical and features such timeless classics as “I’m Flying,” “I’ve Gotta Crow,” “I Won’t Grow Up” and “Never Never Land.” Gerber, a Downey sophomore, said he hopes to bring the spirit of Peter to life through his performance.
“My personal goal is to take the audience with me to Neverland,” he said. “I want to make them forget they’re in Modesto, their home lives, their worries, and just let them be a kid again.”