Neverland Love: A Double Feature

Our first show of the season is taking us off to Neverland. Peter Pan has been done six, soon to be seven, times in Muni history and is always a family favorite. For this edition of “The Muni Moment,” two of the staff members  for the 2019 production are sharing their interactions with the show that led them to being on staff. Jacob Deters, an entranced audience member turned Assistant Director, and Anna Maisenbacher, Wendy/Peter Pan/and potentially Muni’s 2026 production Tiger Lily turned Choreographer, share their fond memories of their show.

From Jacob:

Congratulations to the cast of the 2019 Muni shows. This was my first time on the other side of the audition table. I have auditioned and was in a Muni show for 12 straight seasons. My first Muni show was Grease back in 2007! Let me tell you all, being on staff is quite the experience. I am so ecstatic to be Assistant Directing Peter Pan at Muni this year. We had an unbelievable amount of talent come through and as much as I love the fun of audition season, I am so happy to have a cast for our show and start the rehearsal process.

Let’s take this back to where it all began…

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Wait… too far back…. (BTW – yes that is me and my mom, waiting for my blanket, dee dee, to dry).

Fast forward to the end of last summer. Elizabeth Cheney (Director for Peter Pan) and I began to discuss if we would want to put in to direct and assistant direct a show for this season. We had some ideas we were very interested in putting on the stage for this season, but it had to be the right one! We knew we wanted it to be family friendly and a real crowd pleaser. We threw around some ideas and when the idea of Peter Pan came up, we both were both intrigued.

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I have been a fan of it since I saw it in 2007 at Muni. From the sword fights, flying, and pixie dust… I was hooked! (see what I did there…). Elizabeth and I both loved the story, music, and magic of it all, but was it the right time to do Peter Pan again? The last time Muni did Peter Pan was in 2013 (once again a phenomenal show). It is hard to tell how the news of reviving a classic Muni show is going to be received by the theater community, but Elizabeth and I were on board for this project because we knew it would be something special… something extraordinary. We began to think of all the possibilities we had with it and we knew we could bring a different spin this time around. It was time for Muni audiences to see Peter Pan once more!

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I hope I can bring a unique perspective this time around to this talented staff. The story is classic, timeless, and hard not to love. When I see the photo above of me, I was reminded of myself at the age many of our audience members will be. Not wanting to grow up and always ready for the next adventure. It is a tough lesson in life, but unfortunately, we do have to move on and “grow-up” (whatever that means), we lose that innocence.  Peter Pan brings back that sense of curiosity, even just for a few hours, in even the biggest grownups. Coming from someone who has yet to be involved in a production of Peter Pan, I hope to bring some fresh eyes to this show and new, exciting ideas to share with this new generation of Muni-goers.

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Under Elizabeth’s direction, I am so excited to see what our staff and cast can bring to life on the Muni stage this year. Becky Kemp has a fantastic vision for this music and I am happy to get to work with her for this first time on this project. Anna Masienbacher coming back as a former Peter Pan to choreograph is just pure Muni magic. As much as we love sharing these stories with a new generation of Muni audiences and casts, there is something special in hearing stories like Anna’s and her journey with Peter Pan. We have a wonderful cast that we cannot wait to work with. We have a wonderful mix of Muni veterans, but also new people. I cannot wait for them to experience the Muni Magic for the first time.

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I hope to see each of you under the Muni stars this season for a fantastic line up. Make sure to save me a Muni Dog! I can guarantee you will not want to miss Peter Pan this season.

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From Anna:

Since I’ve been old enough to audition for the Muni, Peter Pan has been on the Muni stage four times.  I have been a part of three of those productions, currently as the choreographer for the upcoming season.  Had college not prevented me, I definitely would have tried out for the 2007 production, as I have a goal of playing every possible female role in the show.  So director for the Muni 2026 production, whoever you are, keep me in mind for Mrs. Darling, Liza, Pirate #3, or a super old Tiger Lily, because I will be present at auditions.  So what is it about the story that I find so irresistible?  I think that can be summed up with one word: magic. Peter Pan is magical.  How lovely to sit in an audience or backstage and watch Peter encourage everyone around him clap as loud as they can because they believe in fairies and want Tink to live. It gets me every. single. time.   When you are involved in the show of Peter Pan, you get to forget about all of your adult troubles of the day, go to rehearsal, and be a child for three wonderful hours each night. And how exciting is it when all of those weeks of hard work come together and you hear that gorgeous music that swells into trumpet blasts as Peter soars through the nursery window with an explosion of fairy dust?  UGH. CHILLS. But I’m not going to talk about those things in this post. I’m about to tell you the real stuff…all the crap that can go wrong and ruin the magic. RUINING THE MAGIC FOR YOU IN 2019: HERE WE GO!

  • That DANG harness: real talk you guys.  It is awful. You’re super pumped because rehearsals have been going so well before you get to the Muni site.  Then suddenly you arrive on site, and you can’t breathe during “I Gotta Crow” because this giant medal harness added 15 lbs.  Also, NOT CUTE. You felt pretty good about that costume fitting, and then this lung and thigh crushing harness makes everything SO TIGHT.  You try to still look kinda cute walking around backstage on day 1 and day 2 of tech. “Does this harness make my butt look big??” By day 3, you’re walking around like a sumo wrestler, begging your flight director Tom for a pair of his son’s football pads so that your legs can stop bruising and swelling.  Your arms are purple (see exibit A)…
  • The Peter Flight.  OK hear me out…this goes in stages.

Stage 1: The Army Crawl.  You have to hide behind this two foot tall window sill so instead of laying back there for the entire first part of the show (because bugs), you hang backstage and then crawl on all fours towards your friend Jen so that she can hook you up for the big flight. Hopefully you can wipe off the pieces of stage that got stuck to your costume in the process.

Stage 2: The Crouch. Again…two foot tall window sill.  Neck cramps for days trying to keep my head below the window.  Also leg cramps from holding a squat position until you can’t feel them anymore.

Stage 3: The Window Panic. You hear Mrs. Darling say one of your favorite lines “Dear nightlights that protect my sleeping children…” Ok…it’s go time.  The violins start. The windows haven’t opened yet. Does anyone know the windows aren’t open?? SOMEONE TELL KEVIN NOT TO JUMP OR I AM GOING TO SLAM INTO THIS WINDOW LIKE A BUG ON A WINDSHIELD.  THEN THIS IS GOING TO HAPPEN…Peter Pan Fails.  Also don’t watch too many Peter Pan fails because then you just convince yourself that one of them is going to happen to you.

Stage 4: The Flight.  So many curse words are flying through your head as you are basically catapulted into the air.  The amazing crew opened the window just in time, and you didn’t hit the window. #blessed DANG IT. You forgot to throw the pixie dust. *throws giant clump of pixie dust right before landing and most of it sticks to your sweaty head*

Stage 5:  Concern for your friend Kevin.  This flight happens because some brave soul jumps from a two story scaffolding to fling you into the air.  You volunteered your friend Kevin to risk his life so you can look pretty. It’s fine. He jumps…you’re flung into the air…you landed…excellent. Then suddenly you hear your friend Kevin crash to the ground and groan just a bit.  You instinctively want to say “You ok Kev?” but you can’t. So you try to come off as “curious Peter” and sneak a quick peek off stage. PHEW. Kevin is alive. You’re ok to proceed with “Tink! Tinkerbelle! Where are you?” And the flight is done.  Let’s do it again in Act 3!

  • The very real fear that no one will clap for Tink, she dies, and the show ends with you just looking like an idiot on stage.  Seriously, what if no one claps?!? But kids are the best. They clap. Their parents clap. You breathe a giant sigh of relief, cry real tears, and go rescue Wendy.

Ok, do all of these things happen?  Yes. Is it worth it? 100% yes. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.  It all becomes so worth it when you see hundreds of kids stare with complete fascination, hear them gasp when Peter flies through the window, giggle when the croc wiggles across stage, and clap as loudly as they can to save a fairy.  I cried probably no less than 15 times watching Muni auditions this year. The emotions felt during the scenes between Peter and Wendy are real, and they all came shooting out of my eyeballs again. I still have such genuine love and affection for both Carolyn and Lindsey because you just can’t help but become best friends when you work so closely on these intense scenes. I learned about the importance of the Wendy/Peter relationship from Phil Funkenbusch and Ed MacMurdo, and it changed my life forever.  

Also, what are these 80s bangs??  

Cute fun fact…Lindsey and I wore the same Wendy nightgown.

Being involved in Peter Pan is exhilarating, challenging, exhausting, rewarding, and MAGICAL.  It is an awfully big adventure, and I cannot wait to return to Neverland again this year. And Devin, invest in some football padding right now.  I hope my sweet husband waits to jump until the window is open.

All views and opinions expressed on The Muni Moment are those of the guest writers and do not necessarily represent the views of the Springfield Muni Opera.