The title of this musical, a selection of the 2018 New York Musical Festival, comes from Operacion Pedro Pan (Operation Peter Pan), which between 1960 and 1962 brought more than 14,000 children from Cuba to the United States without their parents.
“Pedro Pan” is the (fictitious) story of one such Cuban kid, Pedro, and his adjustment to life in New York City, living with his aunt, who herself left Havana just two years earlier.
There is much to like in this 75-minute musical, which is performed in a mix of English and un-translated Spanish, and features eight appealing, largely Latin-tinged songs, Sidney Erik Wright’s lively choreography, and a terrific ten-member cast, including Wilson Jermaine Heredia (Tony winner for Rent) as Pedro’s father in Havana, Natalie Toro (Les Miz, A Christmas Carol) as his aunt in New York and Gregory Diaz IV (Matilda) as the convincingly awkward, bespectacled Pedro, one of the five impressive child performers.
But, billed as family-friendly (recommended for ages eight and above), “Pedro Pan” could benefit from being more adult friendly too. Everything is simplified, black and white. The first third of the show takes place in Havana, where the revolutionaries in Cuba are all monstrous; Pedro’s family is menaced by two soldiers, who invade their home, point a gun at Pedro, and even steal the meal that the family was about to eat. There is no real explanation of how Pedro is able to leave for the U.S., nor why the parents don’t leave with him. That there are no details about the larger story of Operation Peter Pan itself is I suppose justifiable; the musical focuses exclusively on one boy. But it’s too bad the creative team couldn’t figure out a way to incorporate at least some of the fascinating history behind the mass exodus, assisted by the U.S. Government, which would be especially timely given the current worldwide refugee crisis and the U.S. government’s recently-reversed policy of separating children from their families seeking refuge at the border..
The bulk of “Pedro Pan” shows us Pedro’s adjustment in New York. He’s bullied by kids at school; his clueless teacher even has trouble pronouncing Pedro’s name (!), so calls him Peter. But then Pedro makes friends with an immigrant boy from Mexico (Julian Silva, who was Young Simba in The Lion King) and an African-American girl who moved from Alabama (Taylor Caldwell, who starred as Rosie in Really Rosie at Encores.) Most of Pedro’s experiences differ little from that of any immigrant child, and the lessons learned apply to any youngster, period. But we leave “Pedro Pan” happy that the youngsters learning the lessons of tolerance and collaboration and pride in one’s identity are this song-and-dance trio of young old pros.
Pedro Pan is on stage at Theatre Row through Saturday, July 14, as part of the New York Musical Festival.