Disney-Hyperion published a novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson with this title, and it climbed to the NewYork Times best seller list. Disney Theatrical Productions president Thomas Schumacher discovered it while it was still in galleys, and its development has been guided by that organization ever since.
When its stage version was still an embryo, with just a few scenes outlined, it had a lab production at Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2007 under the direction of Roger Rees and Alex Timbers. It went well enough for Rick Elice (Jersey Boys and The Addams Family) to climb on board and write a full length stage piece, and that was offered as a Page to Stage production at the La Jolla Playhouse in the winter of 2009.
After a slew of revisions, the play was finally fully staged in the spring of 2011 at the New York Theatre workshop. There it enjoyed rave reviews, the sold out run was extended and set a record for the highest grossing single day in NYTW’s history. It won all sorts of awards for its script, direction, design, choreography, lead actor, and lighting. This is the version that a consortium of dozens of producers, including the Disney Theatrical original sponsors, have now brought to Broadway. If you are considering a career as any form of creator for the straight or musical theatre, keep in mind it would be wise to have several buns in the oven at the same time as well as, if possible, a “day job.” Fortunately, this particular five year saga has a very happy ending.
Many have wondered, after seeing J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, when and how did Peter Pan become the boy who never grew up? The above creative team has put together this prequel to that play, and by demanding an audience to join in using its imagination, they’ve answered that question in the most delightful manner possible.
Set behind a humongous proscenium arch covered in flora and fauna and topped by a six foot pineapple, all items of which relate to the tale that’s about to unfold, it involves two ships setting out for distant island destinations, one manned by pirates, the other inhabited by three orphans who’ve been placed in a dark cage on the ship “The Neverland”, bound for what would appear to be a very unwholesome life. One of them, “Boy” doesn’t even have a name. A girl on ship, Molly, sees something in his eyes that indicates to her that he is special, and she names him “Peter”.
With only the sketchiest of scenery and a handful of props, we are transported across the ocean and under the sea, in a kind of free-for-all in which the company of 12 actors plays over 100 roles. Roger Rees, the co-director, takes a page from the Royal Shakespeare production of Nicholas Nickleby in which he played the title character and in which he first came to our notice, by using his actors as he needs them, and in this vibrant and young company, all are up to the task.
The four central characters are played by the best quartet of players since, well — picture a very young Gertrude Lawrence and Noel Coward squaring off against a pre-teen Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne and you’ll get the picture.
Here we have the astonishing Christian Borle (“Smash”) and the ardent Adam Chanler-Berat (Next to Normal) having at each other as “Black Stache”, who will soon have cause to become “Captain Hook” and as “Boy” (who will have equal right to the name of “Peter Pan” before the evening ends). The other two are “Molly” (the splendid Celia Keenan-Bolger, who made a splash as “Mary Flynn” in the recent Encores! Merrily We Roll Along production) and “Mrs. Bumbrake” (a nanny played by Arnie Burton, who played another hundred characters in The 39 Steps). These four have the most to do, and none of them ever misses a beat. A raised eyebrow, a lowered voice, a tiny jig, a deep bow, a wink, a growl, a pratfall or a mad dash across stage, all are put to blissful use by this very capable company of actors, all of whom seem to have evolved out of British pantomime and/or British Music Hall.
As I expect none of them has ever been exposed to either of these two archaic styles, one must credit Mr. Rees for explaining same to them. Movement Director Steven Hoggett and co-director Timbers, who is a former president of Yale Dramat, must have contributed to the overall consistency of style as well, but no matter who is responsible, all I can say is “Well done!”
With ropes and ladders, toy boats and household appliances, musical interludes and a chorus of singing mermaids, it’s one of those shows about which one could say: “If you have a good time, it’s your fault. And if you don’t, it’s your fault too.” Which is to say this show should be, but is not for everyone. There were little kids roaming around in the intermission, looking less than enthralled. There were some grown folks who fled between acts. One must come to this piece expecting to participate in the mood of madness, to be willing to leave reason in the lobby, to fly with those on stage.
That’s asking a lot of an audience, but I as one of them, joined in taking the bait and we roared our approval when all was said and done.
Peter and the Starcatcher is onstage at the Brooks Atkinson Theater, 256 West 47th Street, NYC.
Details and tickets
Richard Seff, Broadway performer, agent, writer, and now librettist, among his many accomplishments, has written the book for Shine! The Horatio Alger Musical!, which debuted at the 2010 New York Musical Theatre Festival. He is also author of Supporting Player: My Life Upon the Wicked Stage, celebrating his lifetime on stage and behind the scenes, available through online booksellers, including Amazon.com.
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