It surely won't be hard to believe in Neverland when Howard Kingston steps onto the MCT stage. With his dark angular features, booming bass voice, and genuine British accent, the Missoula musician and actor would seem born for the role of Captain Hook in the classic musical, "Peter Pan."
For Kingston's part in the production, thank Missoula playwright Roger Hedden.
"I didn't even know that MCT was doing it until Roger told me," said Kingston. "He said, ‘You've got to go for (the role), because it's you.' I suppose he was probably right."
Kingston has been a mainstay of local stages since moving to Missoula in 1995, where he has since earned a bachelor's degree in music and a master's degree in media arts from the University of Montana. But with a focus on more dramatic roles, Kingston has never previously participated in an MCT Community Theatre production, which tend to focus on family-friendly musicals.
But like every actor who deals in make-believe, there has always been a little bit of the Peter Pan spirit inside Kingston.
"I'd originally seen the 1960s revival done for NBC with Mary Martin, which was produced and directed by Jerome Robbins, who did ‘West Side Story,' and I remember watching that with my daughter and it was so fun," recalled Kingston. "And of course ‘Peter Pan' is one of the classic children's stories of all time. ... I think of Peter Pan as the embodiment for the search for eternal youth, as the elixir of life: ‘I don't want to grow up, deal with death and disease and real things; I want to always be a kid and hang out with fairies and undying things.' I think that's the deeper attraction for everybody, really."
When it comes to "Peter Pan," that deeper attraction spans generations, said Michael McGill, the executive director of MCT and director of the company's upcoming production.
"MCT is known for family entertainment, and to me ‘Peter Pan' is one of the greats," said McGill, noting that MCT's production employs a cast of more than 50 local actors. "I remember it as a terrific story from my childhood, and I think kids today know it just as well. At the same time, it's a story that can really appeal to adults. So in those ways it was right in the middle of what we do really well. For me personally, it's one of those stories that I identified with as a kid, it took me on those adventures with my imagination; so for me to direct it, I had all these leftover childhood images from sitting with the record player and listening to the telling of ‘Peter Pan,' that I was trying to recreate in this production."
Of course, one of the most famous images from J.M. Barrie's tale of whimsy and adventure is that of Peter Pan and his newfound friends flying across the stage. That image wasn't exactly simple to create on the stage at MCT, said McGill.
"Anytime you have flying in a production, it basically doubles the technical challenges," said McGill. "That has definitely caused its challenges, but I'm excited about how it works in the end; it looks very different, and it's working really well."
For those who somehow missed it, "Peter Pan" follows the tale of three children who are visited in their bedroom one night by Peter Pan, a magical, flying boy from the island of Neverland, and his fairy friend Tinkerbell. Peter Pan takes the children on a fantastical adventure on his island, where they encounter a group of forgotten children known as the Lost Boys, as well as a band of Indians and a group of pirates led by the nefarious Captain Hook.
"More than anything else, it's a story that's got every little kid's favorite images: pirates, Indians, people who can fly, and little boys who basically don't go to school and don't have to cater to anybody else's whim," said Kingston, who plays the role of Hook opposite Kendra Syrdal as Peter Pan. "The parents are grumpy and inconsequential and boring old parents, and the kids have this incredible adventure that grown-ups don't understand."
For his part, Kingston said he aims to present Hook as a blend of villainy and insecurity.
"Hook is full of bravado but he's also a scaredy-cat," said Kingston. "So I'm trying to walk that fine line between being full of gusto and bravado and also making him funny."
If nothing else, MCT's outsized costumes and the impossible fantasy of the story should help keep Kingston's Hook from falling into the realm of a Hannibal Lecter.
"I'm going to do my darnedest to be as big a Hook as I can," said Kingston, noting that his first MCT experience has been a fun adventure unto itself. "I'm having a blast with all the cast and Michael McGill, who's a wonderful guy to work with; so I think people will really enjoy this show."
Reporter Joe Nickell can be reached at 523-5358 or at email@example.com.