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Revamped Peter Pan musical coming to Charlotte draws on indigenous peoples’ heritage

In older iterations of Peter Pan, the classic story of a free-spirited boy who didn’t want to grow up, representations of indigenous children in the tale such as Tiger Lily have been less than accurate.

In one version, there is a song that uses made-up language about a fictional tribe that Tiger Lily hails from.

However, changes to better reflect culture of indigenous characters and diversity overall are among the shifts in an updated “Peter Pan” musical coming to the Belk Theater for a week starting on March 5.

The main cast includes Nolan Almeida as Peter Pan, Hawa Kamara as Wendy, Cody Garcia as Captain Hook and Raye Zaragoza as Tiger Lily.

Drawing on deeper historical research by acclaimed playwright Larissa FastHorse, the change features richer backgrounds of the indigenous characters — using the cast’s own backgrounds.

“A lot of people don’t remember Tiger Lily,” Zaragoza said. “They remember her as sometimes a misrepresentation of what it means to be an indigenous child. I think that it’s exciting to bring her to a new light and to get to represent her in a way that is empowering and memorable.”

Additionally, the production makes other enhancements to the female characters, addressing some stereotypes to better appeal to diverse audiences.

The Charlotte Observer recently caught up with Zaragoza, who is of mixed indigenous, Asian and Latina heritage, and Kamara, who has Liberian and Sierra Leonean ancestry, to discuss the evolving roles of the female roles in “Peter Pan.”

From left: Raye Zaragoza as ‘Tiger Lily’, Hawa Kamara as ‘Wendy’, Nolan Almeida as ‘Peter Pan’, and Cody Garcia as ‘Captain Hook.’ The diverse cast of “Peter Pan” helps to more accurately portray the often stereotyped indigenous characters.
From left: Raye Zaragoza as ‘Tiger Lily’, Hawa Kamara as ‘Wendy’, Nolan Almeida as ‘Peter Pan’, and Cody Garcia as ‘Captain Hook.’ The diverse cast of “Peter Pan” helps to more accurately portray the often stereotyped indigenous characters.

Interviews have been edited for clarity.

A newly imagined version of Peter Pan

What’s changed in the production in terms of your role?

Raye Zaragoza: I think that the pillars of the story are still the Peter Pan that everyone knows and loves. But Larissa FastHorse has done the additional book (and) really kind of brought it down to its bones, and really sifted through what was working and what wasn’t.

Some of the parts that weren’t working were a lot of the aspects with the indigenous characters and with Tiger Lily. She was the daughter of the chief. She was very silent and didn’t really have much to do with the plot. Now she’s the leader of the tribe.

Hawa Kamara: This is the most diverse concept I’ve seen of Peter Pan. I will say ( Wendy’s mother) is played by an Indian woman. My father is played by Hook, who is now Mexican, and I really like that. They took away the whole British middle of war (theme). That’s the iteration that I’m familiar with. I think it’s fun creating a new iteration of a character and I think it’s changing what people would think of this previously, and (Wendy, who was) notoriously known as this young, little, blonde white girl. She’s so much more ambitious now.

She’s so much more of a fighter, and there’s so much emphasis on caring for people, (and) not necessarily to be a mother and to feel (it’s a) women’s role but to generally take care of people. I think Larissa FastHorse did a great job in writing the script and rewriting it to make Wendy a more three-dimensional character than she ever was.

From left: Nolan Almeida as Peter Pan, Hawa Kamara as Wendy. This updated version of the classic tale used additional research about indigenous people by playwright Larrisa FastHorse.
From left: Nolan Almeida as Peter Pan, Hawa Kamara as Wendy. This updated version of the classic tale used additional research about indigenous people by playwright Larrisa FastHorse.

How do the changes affect how you will approach your roles?

Zaragoza: I’ve actually known Larissa since I was 14. I was actually in her first musical, in a staged reading at Native Voices in Los Angeles, an equity theater featuring works of Native American, Alaskan, Native Hawaiian and First Nation at the Autry Museum.

When I auditioned (for Peter Pan), I was really excited about it.... To get to reinvent a well-known character that a lot of people know through generations and to have your own imprint on it is exciting. It’s also a huge responsibility.

I think a lot of indigenous people view a lot of characters like Tiger Lily (and) Pocahontas that are based off of indigenous people to be harmful because they’re perpetuating stereotypes. They’re not actually rooted in anything truthful. (This version is) actually bringing a lot of visibility to indigenous and mixed race people.

Kamara: Peter Pan and the iterations that I’ve always seen, even the musical version, was something that I never (would have) seen myself in. I didn’t really step in thinking, “Yeah, I’m gonna book this,” because even the genre of musical isn’t really my forte. It was very cool to read those lines and say it in a new, contemporary way, too.

From left: Nolan Almeida as Peter Pan, Kenny Ramos as Acoma, Raye Zaragoza as Tiger Lily and the cast of “Peter Pan.” The remake of the classic tale by playwright Larissa FastHorse comes to Charlotte and the Belk Theater March 5-10.
From left: Nolan Almeida as Peter Pan, Kenny Ramos as Acoma, Raye Zaragoza as Tiger Lily and the cast of “Peter Pan.” The remake of the classic tale by playwright Larissa FastHorse comes to Charlotte and the Belk Theater March 5-10.

Want to go?

What: “Peter Pan”

Where: Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St., Charlotte

When: Mar 5-10

Tickets: Go to blumenthalarts.org

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