By Mike Keenan
There’s a poignant scene in the 1924 silent film, Peter Pan, played in Partridge Hall on the weekend in conjunction with Chorus Niagara (singing from behind the screen), when Tinker Bell consumes Captain Hook’s poison in order to save Peter. When she appears to be dying (her light dims), Peter looks directly at the camera and tells the audience that this fairy can be revived if only we applaud. Of course, the large St. Catharines audience complies, and all is well.
With gifted guest organist Edward Moroney and pianist Krista Rhodes accompanying the chorus, Conductor Robert Cooper and Apprentice Conductor Elise Naccarato successfully presented the vintage movie magic of the restored 1924 first film adaptation of the timeless play by J. M. Barrie. This follows the success of Phantom of the Opera.
We all know the story of Peter, a magical boy who refuses to grow up. He teaches the Darling children, Wendy and brothers John and Michael, to fly to Never Never Land where he lives with the Lost Boys. Wendy becomes a surrogate mother, but they are all captured by pirate Captain Hook. Peter rescues them and Hook is eaten by his perennial antagonist, the crocodile, who once swallowed a ticking clock that provides a warning. Peter removes te clock, fights of Hook’s crew and ultimately returns Wendy and her brothers back home. When asked, he refuses to stay.
Artistic Director Robert Cooper selected an eclectic compilation of music to help bring this silent film classic to life. Edward Moroney and the 100 voices of Chorus Niagara helped fill Partridge Hall with a live soundtrack as we experienced a film of historical significance!
Barrie was involved in the film production and wrote a screenplay for it, but Paramount used the original stage script. Productions traditionally employed a girl to play the lead role, wearing tights with abbreviated costumes to show off their legs. The title role in the 1924 movie was awarded to an unknown Betty Bronson, selected by Barrie himself over established actresses that included Lillian Gish, Gloria Swanson and Mary Pickford.
Despite the film’s British origin, it was amusing to note that the Hollywood version had the children take down the pirate flag and substitute the Stars and Stripes while Cooper’s Chorus appropriately sing “My Country ‘tis of Thee…”
Nana, a St. Bernard owned by the Darling family almost steals the show in the first half of the film, but it’s Peter who is the main focus, refusing Wendy’s romantic advances, determined never to grow up.
I was reminded of the great Romantic poet, William Wordsworth who, in The Prelude, anguishes about his long lost childhood take (“visionary gleam”) on life, and, of course, the Fountain of Youth made famous by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León who searched for the Fountain of Youth when he traveled to what is now Florida in 1513.
Robert Cooper’s pixie dust continues to flourish with his revival of a great silent film each year, brought to life with his Chorus. Later this month, Chorus Niagara plus the Children’s Choir will join the NSO to perform opera, Italian Style.
Chorus Niagara’s website: http://www.chorusniagara.ca/
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Image: Elise Naccarato, Apprentice Conductor, photo by Brad Demers