'Fly' Brings The Peter Pan Story To The La Jolla Playhouse
Speaker 1: 00:00 The story of Peter pans adventures in Neverland with Wendy darling is that the inspiration for fly a musical at LA Jolla Playhouse KPBS arts calendar editor Julia Dixon. Evan says that piece features breathtaking aerial acrobatics and dynamic soundtrack and a thoughtful and funny take on friendship, gender, masculinity and adulting. Evan spoke with the shows director Jeffrey seller. Seller is a four time Tony award winner and known for his work producing rent and Hamilton. Here's that interview. Speaker 2: 00:33 So when you decided to create a musical of the Peter pan story, it also marked a long awaited return to directing for you. Can you tell us a little bit about how the idea came about? Speaker 3: 00:44 I think I have been thinking about Peter pan and captain hook since I was about eight years old. When I was nine. I was in a play and then as soon as I was done being in that play, which was a Purim play by the way, uh, so that was about queen Esther. I decided to write a play and I wrote a play called adventure land in which my two best friends, Bruce and Jay and I fell through the woodshed in my backyard and landed in this far away and dangerous place called adventure land where we were immediately be set by many, many life threatening challenges. And in this play that I wrote our hero, the man who forgot the boy who finally saves us at the end from the clutches of captain hook was in fact Peter pan. So I think I've been figuring out how to dramatize Peter and captain hooks since I was nine years old. Speaker 2: 01:41 So many of your characters are richly developed, almost put on a level moral playing field. It's almost like a full cast of leads. How do you write a story and produce a story where an audience somehow roots for everyone like that? Speaker 3: 01:59 Well, thank you. Um, and of course I'm going to immediately call out our extraordinary playwright, Rajiv Joseph [inaudible], who has been my partner on this project for almost 10 years. And when we got together, Rajiv said, well, as far as I'm concerned, Peter pan is the first superhero. And he always loved this notion that Peter was a a boy who always beat adults. And um, as we got into this, we were first led by the notion that the first character that Barry mentions is not Peter, it's Wendy. And, um, and I, you know, I've always been so powerfully moved by and directed by and inspired by his opening paragraph in which he says, all children except one grow up. They soon know that they will grow up. And the way that Wendy was this, and then we know we're off to the races following how Wendy grows up. And I think that we've been led by trying to develop the how of how Wendy grows up through this evening. Speaker 2: 03:18 Can you tell us a little bit about how modern attitudes towards gender and masculinity have shaped this retelling? Speaker 3: 03:26 Wow, that's a great question. I want to point out that one. We've been working on this for almost 10 years. So our interest in Wendy as a hero in Wendy as the center of a moral compass in Wendy as a girl on the precipice of womanhood precedes the me too movement. And I give so much credit to our creators, to Rajiv and Kirsten Childs and extraordinary musical theater creator in her own right and our composer bill Sherman, who had been interested in those issues since day one. And then we've been interested in the issue of who is captain hook and who is Peter pan and what, you know, if you make a triangle of hook and Peter and Wendy, where do the three of these characters align and where do they not align? And I think we're coming to a unique place at the end of our evening that some people may not expect Speaker 2: 04:38 [inaudible] now you mentioned bill Sherman and the music. It draws on quite a range of influences. What can you tell us about the soundscape of SLI? Speaker 3: 04:47 Yeah. When I am developing a new musical producer director, either I'm always looking to have an oral landscape that will surprise me and that will help me go. I've never heard anything like that on a stage before. And one of the things that we were inspired by from inception was the notion of drumming. The drum is our heart, the drum that keeps the beat of our lives. We were more interested in the drum keeping the beat of our lives. Then the old fashioned clock that Barry used. So we got rid of the clock and we just focused on the drum and I have to say in the summer that I started getting the idea, Hey, let's go make Peter pan into a musical. I think that there's even more latitude for this story. I was inspired by a Monday night tradition at a beach near my house where all of the people from the neighborhood would bring their drums and do a drum circle and we would participate in this drum circle every night. And I wanted to create that kind of party, that drumming party at our show. Speaker 2: 06:00 So I have to ask about the flying. Tell me a little bit about how the aerial component works. Speaker 3: 06:06 Absolutely. Because that's also part of the Jermaine ideas of this show, which is that in, um, uh, in 1998, a couple of years after I had done rent on Broadway and I was thinking, Oh my God, I'm never going to be able to do another show. How am I going to top rent? Like, you know, how do you deal with that? And then I discovered this extraordinary aerial theater troupe from Buenos IRAs and um, they had a show called de LA Guardia and the whole show took place in the air above our heads. And um, I saw it in London and then I met with the folks, went down to blindness, RAs and then said, Hey, let's come bring you to New York. And then we did day LaGuardia in New York and it ran for I think about four years and I'm the creator of [inaudible] Belle de Nu became a very close friend of mine. And from day one I said, I want the flying in fly to be reminiscent of the vocabulary and flying language that the peach shone and his partner Dickie James created with day LaGuardia, which is the notion of it's muscular and it's fully in view, and we're not going to try to hide anything. So you see the Caribbean or you see the equipment and you say, yeah, that's cool. Speaker 2: 07:26 So LA Jolla Playhouse is becoming known as a springboard for Broadway is do you have that hope for a fly? Speaker 3: 07:34 I don't think there is a musical creator alive who doesn't dream about Broadway. But our goal here is to make the best show we can and then let the world tell us what happened. Speaker 2: 07:51 Thank you so much for joining us. Jeffrey, what a pleasure. Thank you. That was fly director Jeffrey Sellers speaking with KPBS arts calendar editor Julia Dixon Evans flies at the LA Jolla Playhouse through March 29th.