By Rick Kennedy, managing editor
An estimated crowd of 740 on Friday night in Hope saw the heralded second coming of “ice skating” at Hempstead Hall in the form of a highly entertaining and clever performance of “Peter Pan and Friends on Ice,” presented by the Southwest Arkansas Arts Council.
As the successor to last year’s “Skatetacular Dreams on Ice,” Peter Pan brought a bigger crowd, a longer performance time, more special effects, some doses of magic, and lots of skill, energy, and original singing to an updated storyline with Disney’s classic characters.
Highlights of the show were plenty, and while Peter, portrayed by an international skating champion Chase Belmontes, was both talented and athletic, the two breakout stars and fan favorites Friday night were Linde LaChance, who played Wendy Darling, and Katy Garrity, who played a sassy and bubble-blowing Mermaid Queen, that Wendy encounters in a visit under the sea.
Garrity and her mermaid sisters were part of a new twist — and departure — from the traditional Peter Pan story; this version, although called “Peter Pan and Friends” just as easily and appropriately could have been called “Peter and Wendy,” as the storyline focused heavily on Wendy’s adventures in Peter’s Neverland. In this version, the other Darling siblings known from the book and movies, are not involved, with Wendy being the center of attention.
The story starts with the familiar Tinkerbell making an appearance, followed by Peter’s proposal to Wendy to join him forever in Neverland. Peter pitches to Wendy an eternal existence, never growing old, always having fun, and having few worries. Wendy initially excited by Peter’s offer, takes on a magical transformation to enter the realm of Peter’s world.
Translating the story to ice, most of the main characters, including Captain Hook and his band of pirates, were all skaters, with many featured in musical performances.
When the skaters weren’t skating, gravity-defying contortionists captivated the crowd in short intervals with a combination of gymnastics, pole-dancing, and circus-style balancing acts.
Wendy’s encounter with the Mermaid Queen was both original and outstanding; as she explores the sea, Wendy is befriended by the colorful Mermaid Queen, played by Garrity, who is a professional skater and skating teacher from Virginia.
Not only singing and dancing with LaChance’s Wendy for a catchy tune called “Breathe under the Sea,” Garrity enchanted the crowd with a bubble act, creating gigantic, theater-filling bubbles with huge hoops, reminiscent of old-time Wham-O bubble makers, and a big stage and bubbly charisma that won the hearts of audience, boys and girls alike.
Afterwards, Garrity said, “It was a beautiful crowd; Hope, Arkansas is awesome. It was great to hear lots of laughing and cheering. The cast did great. I thought it went really well.”
Garrity said the biggest challenge with her on-stage bubbles was simple, “Keep them from popping,” she said. Garrity said she got the idea as Wendy and the mermaids were “under the sea, so it made sense that there should be some bubbles.”
It was easy to overlook that Garrity also played one of Hook’s pirate gang, too. With 10 performers in the cast, several of them played more than one character, outside of Peter and Wendy.
The clear star of this show was Wendy as played by LaChance, who was not only a trained competitive skater, but also a country singer and songwriter from Nashville, Tennessee who has charted on the Billboard County Top-100. LaChance sang all of her songs on stage Friday, while skating.
“I grew up training as a pairs skater and was nationally-ranked for about 10 years skating. I started skating when I was three. And, my family was always involved in music growing up, so I am also a singer and songwriter,” LaChance said in an interview after Friday’s performance.
“It is always a lot of fun on opening night. We are really happy to put on a great show,” she said.
In Wendy’s storyline, LaChance said, “It is Peter Pan, but Wendy plays a big part of it. It is about being courageous, and learning how to be strong and independent, but at the end of the day, the story comes to together and says you do need your family and you need love and support from others. That is what I loved about it.”
In the finale of the story, Wendy decides to depart Neverland as she desires to see the world, grow old, have kids and her own family, and experience life. Tinkerbell reappears to console the disappointed Peter, and the story ended with the characters celebrating Wendy’s departure and her future happiness.
As a trained ice skater, LaChance said the artificial ice surface was initially hard to get used to.
“It is definitely difficult getting used to it, but I think we all adjusted and did pretty well with it,” she said.
As with “Skatetacular Dreams on Ice” last year, the Peter Pan cast performed on a synthetic “ice stage,” which LaChance called “the plastic.” The “ice stage” was assembled as a puzzle and overlaid across the Hempstead Hall theatre stage. With an oil-like lubricant applied, the hard plastic surfaces allows the performers to glide around wearing with actual ice skating blades.
The show was geared to a younger audience in terms of storyline and action, and the show attracted a high number of girls, aged 2 to 14, and as before with “Skatetacular,” the females outnumbered the males nearly 5-to-1 in the crowd Sunday in Hempstead Hall.
Both LaChance’s Wendy and Garrity’s Mermaid Queen were mobbed by streams of young girls for photo opps and autographs in Hempstead Hall’s lobby during a meet-and-greet after the show.
Friday night’s performance at Hempstead Hall was an opening night of sorts for the performers, who spent the week in town getting ready to start a 20-city tour, of which Hope was the very first show. Over the weekend, they performed again in Greenville, Texas and tonight’s performance happens in Witchita Falls, Texas.