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Actors in new "Peter Pan" musical in Branford fly alongside modern dance troupe Pilobolus

Members of the Wheel Life Theatre Troupe and Pilobolus perform the Legacy Theatre's new adaptation of "Peter and Wendy" in Branford.
Keely Baisden Knudsen
Provided photo
Members of the Wheel Life Theatre Troupe and Pilobolus perform the Legacy Theatre's new adaptation of "Peter and Wendy" in Branford.

The story of “Peter Pan” has been told and retold countless times since J.M. Barrie’s 1904 play and subsequent novel introduced us all to the flying boy who refused to grow up, his nemesis Captain Hook, Wendy Darling and of course, the Lost Boys.

This weekend in Branford, the Legacy Theatre presents a new version of the story with original music called “Peter and Wendy.” The production combines the talents of the Wheel Life Theatre Troupe, which features actors of all ages who use a wheelchair or crutches, and the world renowned, Connecticut-based modern dance ensemble Pilobolus.

Keely Baisden Knudsen, the artistic director and co-founder of the Legacy Theatre in Branford, said she conceived of the new musical adaptation with the Wheel Life Theatre Troupe in mind.

Knowing that most stage productions of the Peter Pan story contain elements of flying (usually a flying rig, where the actor wears a harness and is hoisted off the ground), she came up with an idea.

“What if Pilobolus helped us fly?” Knudsen said. “So it was this pairing of extreme movers – Pilobolus – and those that move in different ways, coming together to become one unit to make the flying happen. No rigging, just humans helping humans.”

Knudsen pitched her plan to Matt Kent, co-artistic director of Pilobolus, who loved the idea and dispatched several members of the ensemble to Branford.

In one scene, the Darling family is hit with fairy dust, giving them all the ability to fly. Members of Pilobolus gracefully hoist the actors into the air to simulate flying. Pilobolus also lends a hand to Peter as he swordfights Captain Hook high above the stage.

The Wheel Life Theatre Troupe was formed by the Legacy Theatre in 2018.

“I have a daughter who gets around by using a wheelchair,” said Knudsen. “I thought, let’s start a theater troupe for people with mobility issues, but who would love to be considered for any and all roles.”

The dozen or so actors in the troupe rehearse and receive training Saturday mornings for free.

Performances of “Peter and Wendy” are Saturday, Aug. 20, at 10 a.m. and Sunday, Aug. 21 at 2 p.m. at the Legacy Theatre in Branford.

Ray Hardman is Connecticut Public’s Arts and Culture Reporter. He is the host of CPTV’s Emmy-nominated original series Where Art Thou? Listeners to Connecticut Public Radio may know Ray as the local voice of Morning Edition, and later of All Things Considered.

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