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A two-way ticket to ‘Neverland’

KATIE INFANTE, Thomasville Times-Enterprise
Swashbuckling pirates, flying children, an Indian princess, a stubborn shadow, one sassy fairy, and a mischievous boy who simply doesn’t want to grow up... Most of us are familiar with the wonderfully classic story of Peter Pan.
This weekend, after months of rehearsals, Brookwood School students, from Junior Kindergarteners to high school seniors, will bring to life one of its most magical plays, replete with wildly colorful sets and a full live orchestra.
Brookwood first performed “Peter Pan” on stage 20 years ago when I was an 8-year-old student at Brookwood. I was cast as a fairy, and although I was obsessed with the gleaming white dress with decorative flowers that I got to wear, I also felt keenly envious that I could not both be in the play and see for myself the wonder that I heard being performed on stage every night. If we’d had our choice, the lot of us would have peered in the doorway, one head on top of the other, just to get a glimpse of all the excitement.
David Grooms, Brookwood’s drama director and Upper School Director, recalls of that performance, “I was on the flight crew in the first production and remember very well the sound from the first audience when Peter flew in [through] the window.”
As time has passed, the effects have only become more special. The 2019 play’s director Jimmy Kontos explains, “Brookwood is always striving to provide their students with eclectic opportunities of the highest quality, and this musical is no exception. Flying By Foy is an international theatrical flying organization that works with theatre groups across the globe to bring theatrical flight effects to life. It has been a truly unique treat for the performers to work with such a highly respected organization, and we look forward to audiences being amazed as Peter (and the Darlings) soa(r) through the air.”
However, what happens off-stage is just as important as what happens in front of the audience.
The chemistry between characters in the play is often bolstered by strong and genuine friendships once the curtains close.
Students are not only working with their peers and classmates, but also often perform alongside their teachers and their own siblings.
Kendra Burrus, who teaches Instructional Technology in Brookwood’s Lower School, has the unique pleasure of both playing the character of “grown-up” Wendy and seeing her own children performing in the play She notes, “I have enjoyed spending time with my own children as well as seeing current and former students in a different setting (besides the classroom) as they discover and use their talents. One of the best things about the play is the camaraderie developed between all the actors regardless of age. It truly is an ensemble.”
Having watched her children grow in confidence as they’ve performed in previous productions, she credits much of that development to the mentor relationships her children have formed with older students, who have truly “poured into them over the last three to four years.” She adds, “The allschool musical embodies the family spirit that is Brookwood.”
Freshman Elise McPherson, who has been cast in the star role of Peter Pan, has been performing in Brookwood productions for the last 10 years. She brings an insightful interpretation of the story’s themes of the importance of growing up.
In her opinion, “this play will really help viewers see why we should never allow imagination to die out in our very technology- driven world” and that it’s important to “let (kids) have fun.” While the play emphasizes the necessity and beauty of growing up, McPherson says it’s also about “learning to believe in the magic of childhood.”
Trained as a classical ballerina, McPherson has found the role of Peter to be uniquely challenging.
She notes, “Ballet tells you to stand up straight and be light on your feet — but most pre-teenage boys like Peter do just the opposite.
Ballet tells you to be older and look professional, but Peter’s character is absolutely not old or professional!” Charismatic and outrageously self-confident, Peter has taught McPherson how to “let loose” — an effect that the audience might also find contagious.
Kontos says the story is one that “connects to viewers of all ages and never fails to sweep audiences up in the magic and wonder.” Burrus similarly noted that there is something for everyone: comedy, drama, sword fights, singing, dancing, and flying.
When asked about her favorite scene to perform, McPherson cited the one in which she sings the song “Neverland.” She notes, “It is really the first time that Peter describes his world to the audience.” McPherson adds that she felt a real connection with Peter’s wondrous imagination, a feeling she hopes to convey to everyone who comes to see the show.
“As my director would say, ‘If you can see it, the audience can see it,’ and I love getting to share such a wonderful opportunity to imagine and be taken away to another world.”
Brookwood’s production of Peter Pan will runFriday, Feb. 8, and Saturday, Feb. 9, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 10, at 2 p.m.
Reserved and general admission tickets are available online through Feb. 7 at www.brookwoodschool. org, or at the door of the Thomasville Municipal Auditorium just prior to the performances.
 
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Located in Thomasville, GA, Brookwood School is a private school for grades JK-12. Students benefit from a challenging academic program, fine and performing arts, competitive athletics, and a wide selection of extracurricular activities.