Peter and the Starcatcher
I have produced a lot of theater; I have seen even more and rarely have a seen a show as perfect and full of wonder as "Peter and the Starcatcher," in its new venue at New World Stages on the glittering White Way.
[Editors note: "Peter" won five Tony Awards before closing on Jan. 20. It re-opened Off-Broadway on March 19 at the New World Stages.]
Too often of late, a big Broadway show means money thrown at flying super heroes, phantoms, or witches. Funds are expensed for huge set pieces, magic tricks and major orchestras, but "Peter and the Starcatcher," which presents the back-story of the Peter Pan saga, is the antidote to all of that. It is the real deal, offering up transformative moments in the theater where you laugh, tear up, and leave thoroughly enchanted.
It is as if the 99 percent finally grappled back the producing reins from the uber-rich 1 percent on Broadway and as though finally craft, nuance and imagination took precedence over throwing millions at manufacturing magic.
The proscenium has been transformed to resemble a Victorian playhouse and on stage are a series of ropes, grates and crates all suggesting a dock or ship. There is the barest suggestion of a set until the show begins and then everything is dipped in wonder.
Designer Donyale Werle has made wide worlds from bits of string and sealing wax. Ropes are held to become the frame of a small cabin, they slip and slant to be the deck or ramps, and they wiggle and become waves, or are squared into a boxing ring. And the actors sway to and fro so convincingly that you would swear the stage was tilting.
In the second act the stage is again transformed by bits of aqua, moss green and marine blue cloth to create an exotic island. When Peter and the boys are lost in a jungle, it is a host of hoisted green umbrellas held aloft by other cast members. These are the seeds of prestidigitation, the belief that we believe what we are shown when it is evinced with such artistic gusto.
The play, written by Rick Elice, is a wild romp where a dozen actors switch characters. Pirates morph to good guys, men to women, and back again. There are occasional wonderful songs, by Wayne Barker, and a lovely three-piece band that seems to be able to make any sound effect necessary. The music enlivens the play, but doesn’t send it into the realm of musical.
The main characters are the father, Lord Astor, her majesty’s Queen Victoria sea captain, played with class and grace by Rick Holmes. There is his daughter Molly, who will in time become the mother of beloved Wendy in the J.M. Barrie tale, played with extreme pluck and tomboy humor by Celia Keenan-Bolger.
Of course there is the orphan called "boy," who will soon earn the name Peter Pan; Adam Chanler-Berat embodies him as a wistful man-child. Peter has two hapless friends who have been sold into slavery with him and tossed into the hold of the pirate ship; they are Greg Hildreth and Carson Elrod, one, always hungry, the other lean to the bone, but both a hoot.
Of course there are pirates, and yes, often the good sailors switch to become pirates until they hit the island and all transform into natives, called Mollusks. They are governed by their fearless leader Fighting Prawn, the wonderful Teddy Bergman, whose ridiculous chanting of Italian food names scares everyone and empowers his hoard. Pinot grigio, linguini, scampi, lasagna!
After intermission, the entire cast is called upon to become mermaids and opens the act on the apron singing the rousing "Swim On," a song about being transformed by your courage and a dash of stardust. The mermaids are in bras and sarongs. It is a testament to the ingenuity of the creators and the brilliance of the costume designer Paloma Young, that each set of nipples is given a different hilarious twist. Strainers, mustard bottle, upside down bowls, colanders and gleaming metal steamers adorn the mermaid’s bodices. I chose to detail this as a metaphor for the incredible and constantly gob smacking imagination and out-of-the-box thinking that went into every nook and cranny of "Peter and the Starcatcher."
And I have not even begun to tell you about the man who will become Captain Hook. The true caught star is Christian Borle, who many of us just discovered on the TV mini series, "Smash." He is so funny, so unhinged as Black Stash, the pirate who slams his hand in a trunk, thus necessitating the hook.
By the show’s end you will be holding your sides from giggling and guffawing. No need for an abs workout on the day you see the show, just sit back and yuck it up. Every double entendre, each mimed fall, every eye roll is beyond perfect. And so much credit has to go to the duo of directors Roger Rees and Alex Timbers, who obviously honed this cast into an ensemble where improvisation and suggestions were obviously sought and treasured. A show like this takes a theatrical village to create.
I never wanted the curtain to come down on Neverland. And in the end, isn’t the enduring glory of childhood the endless unfolding of magic and belief? It has all been captured by dint of stardust and is available for all to see. Fly to see "Peter and the Starcatcher."