11 July 2012

Peter and the Starcatcher

The Lost Boys are surrounded in Peter and the Starcatcher. Photo: O&M Co.

The other night I was transported to Neverland for a few hours when I saw a performance of Peter and the Starcatcher. Adapted by Rick Elice from the book by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, Peter and the Starcatcher is a prequel of sorts to Peter and Wendy, deviating from the original Peter Pan back-story in many wonderful ways.

The play opens with the entire cast on stage and one of the actors proclaiming, “When I was a boy, I wished I could fly.” From there the story takes off at breakneck speed with the sailing of two ships—the Wasp with Starcatcher Lord Leonard Aster on board and the Never Land, which carries Aster's daughter
 Molly and her governess Mrs. Bumbrake along with a mysterious trunk that is said to contain “the greatest treasure on earth”—star stuff. Once at sea, the Wasp is overtaken by pirates while on the Never Land Molly befriends a group of kidnapped orphaned boys who are to be sold into slavery. One of them is nameless, known only as Boy. But by the end of the play he has a name—Peter Pan. Together Molly and Peter endure a shipwreck and run-ins on Mollusk Island with a giant crocodile, the island’s ruler who peppers his speech with names of Italian dishes, and the infamous pirate known as the Black Stache. Add a mermaid song and dance at the top of Act II, an inedible pineapple, and a tiny fairy, and the result is a story filled with humour, adventure, and magic.

Peter and the the Black Stache. Photo: O&M Co.

The design of the show is inventive to say the least. On a nearly bare stage, a dozen actors play 50 roles and rely on the simplest of props. A rope for example becomes the hold of a ship, ocean waves, the jaws of a crocodile, among other things. The execution is so smart, so funny that it makes any wish for an elaborate set obsolete. It also asks the audience to use their imagination, something unique in this day and age. And then there is the music, reminiscent of English dancehall songs and sea shanties. The show's composer, Wayne Barker, is a friend of mine so you may think I'm biased when I tell you that the music is delightful but it really is.

Peter’s name may be in the title but the show belongs to the Black Stache. Christian Borle was outstanding as the notorious pirate. Flitting across the stage with his oversized mustache, he tossed around malapropisms and threats effortlessly while being assisted by the ever-faithful Smee. The scene in which the future Captain Hook loses his hand (not by a croc) is one of the funniest in the play, and Borle played it with comic perfection. Celia Keenan-Bolger as Molly was also a standout, the only woman in a cast of men, while Arnie Burton did a nice turn as Mrs. Bumbrake. Adam Chanler-Berat as Peter was fine but his performance left me a little underwhelmed.

Even though the audience was not asked to clap if they believed in fairies, by the end of the play they were on their feet cheering.

Peter and the Starcatcher plays at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. For more information, visit their website here.

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