The story is told in my family that after seeing Mary Martin as Peter Pan in the musical, Peter Pan (based loosely on the original version we are presenting tonight), I climbed up on a chest of drawers and dove off. I crashed. Apparently, I was not alone. When the show opened in London in 1904, so many children were trying to fly, the London Ambulance Service asked Mr. Barrie to help stop the broken arms resulting from his play. Barrie responded by having Peter explain that you must be sprinkled with magic fairy dust before you can fly.
I’ve been looking for some magic fairy dust ever since. I suppose we all have. Part of the allure of Peter Pan is the chance to escape to a magical world where we never have to grow up. If it were that simple, Peter Pan would be just another fairy story, but it is more. Much more.
Barrie not only shows us the enchantments of Neverland, but he always wants us to see the price to be paid for never growing up—if we never grow up, we can never know a mother’s love, never be loved and never love ourselves. Peter is prepared to pay this price. Wendy is not.
This is but one of the dilemmas the play poses—some have even dubbed it the Hamlet of children’s literature. They may well be right. Each time I have re-read it, worked on the scenery, traveled to attend productions in Kentucky and Canada, and even when I read it to my children at bedtime when they were little, I discovered in the story something new and rich and wondrous. Even after working on the play for more than a year, months of set construction, weeks and weeks of rehearsals, the wonder I feel for this play is still as magical as if someone had given me a handful of magic fairy dust and told me I could fly.
Maybe I can. Maybe we all can.