Even though Peter Pan will never grow up, Sophie Lindwall is growing up right before Theatre Cedar Rapids’ audiences eyes.
Just 10 when she stepped into the spotlight as Tootie Smith in “Meet Me in St. Louis,” she’s now 14, and ready to fly into the spotlight Friday (5/5) through May 28 as Neverland’s favorite imp.
First, though, she had to shake off some jitters about stepping into the harness to wing her way above the stage.
“I was actually super-nervous because I would rather be on the ground than in the air,” she said of her first time flying. “It wasn’t freaking me out, but I was definitely nervous. And so they tugged me up and I could kind of feel my heart beating. And then I was up there and I was totally fine. It was super fun, and I love doing it.”
Singing while aloft is no problem either, she discovered.
“It’s surprisingly easier, because my whole body is relaxed,” she said, “so belting is easier, and sustaining notes is easier. It’s a lot better than I was expecting it to be.”
Artistic director Leslie Charipar said the Cedar Rapids teen makes it all look easy.
“Sophie Lindwall is a pro. It took her one rehearsal to look really comfortable and natural at this,” Charipar said.
It isn’t as easy as it looks, however. ZFX Flying Effects, based in Louisville, Ky., spent April 24 to 26 at TCR to school the actors and technicians in the fine art of flying safely — and seemingly effortlessly. It takes seven people working the lines to make four people fly at once.
“Nothing more fun than watching a 6-year-old get flung 15 feet up in the air,” Charipar said of the youngest Darling son, Michael, played by Charlie Sanchez-Masi. “He’s a pretty smart 6-year-old.
“ZFX is a great company,” Charipar said of the group that also flew “Mary Poppins” in 2015 and “The Little Mermaid” in 2016 at TCR. “They do really thorough training, so I think all the actors feel very comfortable about where we are. It takes a lot of time. It took three days of rehearsal (which) is a long time, especially when it’s your first week onstage.”
Charipar attributes the actors’ fearlessness to their age.
“All but one is a kid, so this just seemed like a great adventure to them,” she said, noting that Nikki Stewart, 23, who plays Wendy Darling, flew last year as the title character in “Mermaid,” so “she was already aware of what was going on there.”
“The kids were pumped,” Charipar said. “They couldn’t wait.”
The three Darling children can fly up and down and Peter Pan is on a pendulum harness, so Lindwall also can fly side to side. That’s all dictated by the space available for the flying rig among the theater’s permanent flyline system, which supports scenery pieces, backdrops, curtains and electrical lighting instruments.
Despite the space limitations, Charipar said, “The guy from ZFX did some great aerial choreography, so he solved those problems and it looks great. It’s magic — and this was without costumes and lights and the whole thing. I can’t wait to see it all together.”
It’s a dream role for Lindwall, an eighth-grader at Franklin Middle School, who also takes private lessons in voice and dance. With a pixie haircut and some cocky stances, phrases and scrappy fight scenes, she transforms into an adolescent boy.
The role in the musical version typically goes to a girl, or even a woman, as with Mary Martin in the 1954 Broadway version, followed by Sandy Duncan in 1979 and gymnast Cathy Rigby in 1991.
“It’s for practical reasons,” Charipar said. “Peter’s supposed to be 12 to 15. Boys that age generally can’t sing the role — it’s really meant for a voice that hasn’t changed yet, so it’s much easier to put a girl in that role.”
Joining Lindwall in the fight scenes is Peter’s Neverland nemesis, Captain Hook. TCR veteran Scott Humeston of Cedar Rapids is relishing that role.
“I get to be ridiculous, which is one of my fortes,” he said.
In reality, it’s a departure. Humeston, in his mid-50s, has performed in more than 30 area shows in the past 30 years, with leading roles in such heavy dramas as “Extremities,” “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Frankenstein.” This time, he’s having fun playing a rapscallion.
“Hook is so full of himself, and grand. But he’s kind of manic, in a way. One moment he’ll be, ‘Oh, everything’s great,’ then he’s crushed two seconds later, in spirit. So that’s what makes it fun. You get to explore both ends of the spectrum,” Humeston said.
The good guys versus bad guys between Hook’s pirates and Pan’s Lost Boys is part of the show’s enduring charm, Charipar said.
“Part of the way I directed the show and the way some of the adult actors are approaching it is just this side of melodrama,” she said, with plenty of “little nuggets” to keep adults entertained, as well. “Imaginations, playing and magic aren’t just for kids.”
WHAT: “Peter Pan” musical
WHERE: Theatre Cedar Rapids, 102 Third St. SE
WHEN: Friday (5/5) to May 28; 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday; 2:30 p.m. Sunday; 6:30 p.m. May 18
TICKETS: $31 students, $40 adults; TCR Box Office, (319) 366-8591 or Theatrecr.org
FLYING EFFECTS: By ZFX Inc.