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Saturday, 12 March 2011 12:21

Off-Broadway Review: PETER AND THE STARCATCHER

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The Cast of PETER AND THE STARCATCHER at New York Theatre Workshop The Cast of PETER AND THE STARCATCHER at New York Theatre Workshop Photo: Joan Marcus
Peter and the Starcatcher at the New York Theatre Workshop is an absolute delight. It has a perfect cast and ingenious direction by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers.  It tells the tale of three lost orphan boys and their adventures finding Neverland; this is the back-story of Peter Pan.  Based on the best-selling novel of the same title by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson.  This production is cleverly written by Rick Elise, a Tony winner for Jersey Boys.  While parallels will be drawn between Wicked and this show, this charming show stands on its own merits.
The show has been written to tell the story using third-person narrative with characters taking turns doing the narration.  I barely noticed this potentially creaky theatrical device, which Rees and Timbers have used here to effortless effect.  Many in this superlative cast of 12 play multiple characters.  There is not one weak link among them.

Steven Hoggett is credited with movement in the playbill.  As you watch these characters transform from scene to scene Mr. Hoggett’s work is showcased as the characters morph from one character to the next the movement is so slick.   

Press materials for the show refer to it as a play despite the presence of several musical numbers. In fact, it could actually benefit from a few more numbers.  The musical numbers that are there are very entertaining, particularly the mermaid number that opens act two detailing precisely how they became mermaids.  The music by Wayne Barker is delightful.  There are also some very creative sound effects from percussionist Deane Prouty and sound designer Darron L. West.

At the beginning of the play, the other characters call Peter "No Name."  He's an orphan; no one ever cared enough about him to give him a name.  With him are two other "lost boys,"  Prentiss and Ted (Carson Elrod and David Rossmer, respectively).  Peter is played by Adam Chanler-Berat who brings a wide-eyed joyousness to the role. (Chanler-Berat was last seen as the stoner boyfriend in the recently shuttered Next to Normal.)  The three boys have been sold into slavery to the King of Rundoon.  

Two ships leave Portsmouth, the Wasp carrying a special cargo for Queen Victoria and the Neverland, a slower, safer ship carries the daughter of Lord Leonard Astor (played by Karl Kenzler, who is on the Wasp guarding the special cargo for the Queen) and her nanny  The daughter Molly is played by Celia Keenan-Bolger in a performance that's played with confidence and charm. She is our story's heroine and ultimately the mother of Wendy (yes, that Wendy).

The special cargo is none other than starstuff; you might know it as fairy dust.  Lord Astor is a starcatcher, someone whose job it is to reign in and keep an eye on this potentially dangerous material.  There are only “six and a half” starcatchers in the world according to Molly, with her being the half.)  

Chasing after the "stuff" is Black Stache, a suave, cultured pirate (who eventually becomes known as Captain Hook) played by the hilarious Tony Award nominee Christian Borle.  His malaprops and inability to articulate his own name make his the most fun performance in the show to watch.  He is chasing after the trunk holding the starstuff but a decoy has been put in place by Slank (Matt D'Amico) that was to be switched with the real one while the boys were loading the boat.  After continually running into the trunk filled with sand, Black Stache quips, in one of my favorite lines of the evening, that the trunk is "as elusive as the melody in a Phillip Glass opera."  

Ultimately the Neverland crashes into an island with its cargo dumped into the sea but not before Peter rides the trunk to shore all the while leaking its starstuff.  Due to his exposure to it, Peter gets a special ability that he has always desired, the ability to fly.  Starstuff “makes you what you want to be” says one of the shows characters.  In Peters case perhaps that’s flying, or perhaps its that he never has to grow up, or perhaps it’s both.

The scenic design by Donyale Werle is dark and dank in the first act and then transformed into a brightly back-lit plastic cyclorama for the second.  The lighting by Jeff Croiter is lovely and works well to help Rees and Timbers create many of the inventive theatrical devices used throughout the show.  

Peter and the Starcatcher will hold equal appeal for kids, young and old alike.  It could stand to be tightened up with perhaps 20-25 minutes trimmed off the running time. Clocking in at two hours and twenty-five minutes, the piece is a tad too long and perhaps a bit convoluted for very young children to follow.  But this child loved it. 

Additional Info

  • Theatre: New York Theatre Workshop
  • Theatre Address: 79 East 4th St. New York, NY 10003
  • Show Style: Play
  • Previews:: February 18, 2011
  • Opening Night: March 9, 2011
  • Closing: April 17, 2011
Last modified on Friday, 20 April 2012 09:17