Constellation’s Peter and the Starcatcher takes dazzling flight at Source (review)

Think of your favorite pop-up book as a kid: the bright colors, the interactive story, the giddy surprise of action leaping off the page. This feeling of childlike wonder drives Constellation Theatre Company’s ingenious production of Rick Elice’s Peter and the Starcatcher, a Peter Pan origin story bursting with full-throated song, high flying choreography, and technicolor costumes and sets.

Megan Graves, Dallas Tolentino in Peter and the Starcatcher at Constellation Theatre (Photo: Daniel Schwartz)

Spilling from the pages of Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s original book, Starcatcher follows a motley crew of orphans, explorers, sailors, and pirates as they race to take control of “star stuff” – the magical ingredient behind the most fantastical elements of the “Pan” canon. A cast of thirteen versatile performers rotates through multiple roles as the story follows a parade of slapstick, songs, puns, and crazy costume changes. The show treads a careful middle ground between kid-centric and adult, much like Disney movies that employ heady cultural references to keep parents engaged.

As the show opens, British traveler and “Starcatcher” Lord Leonard Aster (Alex Vernon) sets out from Britain on a secret mission across the sea, recalling Rudyard Kipling’s explorer archetype with his stiff upper lip and fanatical dedication to queen and country. Traveling aboard a separate ship to rendezvous with her father, Aster’s headstrong daughter and Starcatcher-in-training Molly (the spunky Megan Graves) befriends an orphan boy (the magnetic Dallas Tolentino) destined for greatness. The young pair quickly forms an emotional bond that forms the play’s emotional and moral anchor. The arrival of dread pirate Black Stache (an affably hammy Michael John Casey) and his barbarous crew throws the expedition into turmoil, as various factions grapple for control and barrel toward a final confrontation on a fantastical island.

Kevin M. Collins, and Michael John Casey (center) in Peter and the Starcatcher at Constellation Theatre (Photo: Daniel Schwartz)

The production is most notable for its sheer exuberance– every joke, every beat, every fight scene, every song is turned up to eleven. There are maybe ten minutes of dramatic reflection and contemplation throughout the entire show. Everything else is a high energy, fourth wall-breaking sprint to the finish. For a lesser production, this could become wearying, like a two-hour staged version of Blue’s Clues. But it works for Constellation because the cast is so totally committed, and the direction and design so dialed in.

Director Kathryn Chase Bryer and her team ride the line between chaos and visual poetry as they build out the play’s various worlds. Choreographers Kelly and Mollye Maxner marshal the actors to fly across the stage, flit in and out of the audience, and generally explore the theater’s every nook.  The Maxners create a series of amazing tableaus – none more so than the “human doors” that open to reveal scenes of rowdy sailor life aboard the good ship “Neverland”.

(l-r) Christopher Michael Richardson, Ian Anthony Coleman, Matt Dewberry, Keith Richards, Michael John Casey, John Sygar, Alex Vernon, Matthew Schleigh, Kamau Mitchell in Peter and the Starcatcher at Constellation Theatre (Photo: Daniel Schwartz)

Scenic and lighting designer A.J. Guban magics an entire world out of planks, ramps, ship parts, and colored gels. Costume designer Kendra Rai festoons the cast in vibrant fantasy outfits, including handmade shellfish headpieces that accentuate the ridiculous look of the island “Mollusk” tribe. For her part, music director Deborah Jacobson ably manages a rousing score filled with salty pirate shanties and soulful laments.

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Want to go?
Peter and the Starcatcher

closes March 12, 2017
Details and tickets
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Special mention goes to puppet and properties designer Matthew Aldwin McGee, whose simulated wildlife provides some of the show’s greatest thrills. As anyone with a passing familiarity with “Peter Pan” knows, the dreaded crocodile looms large over Neverland. Peter and the Starcatcher takes a novel approach to Captain Hook’s scaly bête noire, using the very materials of the world of the play to create an organic, frightening nemesis. Audiences will marvel as McGee’s creation becomes ever more monstrous right before the terrified crew’s eyes.

During Peter and the Starcatcher’s successful Broadway run in 2012-2013, Ben Brantley praised the show as “over the top, with grown up theatrical savvy…floats right through the ceiling of the physical limits imposed by a three-dimensional stage.” Constellation clearly took the right lessons from the Broadway version to heart. The production’s go for broke ethos gives the actors running room to create real magic, while getting away with more than a few groan-inducing puns and scenery chewing. Audiences will be too busy giddily reconnecting with their inner child to notice, anyway.

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Peter and the Starcatcher by Rick Elice. Music by Wayne Barker. Directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer. Featuring Jordan Campbell, Michael John Casey, Ian Anthony Coleman, Kevin M. Collins, Matt Dewberry, Megan Graves, Kamau Mitchell, Keith Richards, Christopher Michael Richardson, Matthew Schleigh, John Sygar, Dallas Tolentino, and Alex Vernon. Choreography: Kelly Maxner and Mollye Maxner. Music Direction: Deborah Jacobson. Scenic/Lighting Design: A.J. Guban. Costume Design: Kendra Rai. Puppet & Properties Design: Matthew Aldwin McGee. Dialect Coach: Elizabeth van den Berg.   Presented by Constellation Theatre Company. Reviewed by Ben Demers.

Ben Demers About Ben Demers

Ben Demersis a DC-based communications professional, writer, and DCTS Board Member. As a digital media strategist by day, he relishes the transportive experience of live theater and still gets chills when the lights dim before each show. He performed music and theater productions extensively in high school & college and joins in short plays, open mic nights, and the occasional karaoke binge when he can. He received an MA in Public Relations from Georgetown and a BA from Vassar College.

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