Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, den mothers, scoutmasters, youth leaders – okay, anyone who oversees children, please follow directions: Go to the website Maryland Ensemble Theatre (MET) and order tickets for all the children in your life so they can catch the magical and imaginative Peter and the Starcatcher. But better be quick. The show closes May 7.
Now read on if you want to know why this big-kid-at-heart recommends this show as a delightful trip to faraway lands, with colorful characters and filled with the best kind of magic – theatre magic.
Using minimal but hilarious props, simple yet engaging sets, Peter and the Starcatcher is the story of how the beloved characters Peter Pan, Captain Hook, and the enchanting island called Neverland all came to be. If you read the original book by humorist Dave Barry and collaborator Ridley Pearson, you may think you know the story. For those who have not read the book or seen the play, I will carefully state that nearly all the principal characters in Peter and the Starcatcher, tell the story of young Molly’s role in the formation of what we know as J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan universe. Part of the fun is seeing the the little “ah-ha” moments pop up as the show progresses, so I will be careful not to spoil these moments of discovery. (The prequel nature of this show reminded me of Wicked in this regard.)
Rick Elice, book writer of the musicals Jersey Boys and The Addams Family, has crafted a witty, fast-paced stage adaptation that opened on Broadway in 2012 and is now becoming a popular staple at theaters large and small. Music and songs by Wayne Barker add color, commentary, and aural punctuation to the adventurous tale.
But what really drew this wide-eyed Peter Pan-phan to the MET production was the cast of nimble and eager actors who breathe theatrical life into the pirates, noblemen, sailors, vengeful natives, a trio of orphaned boys and the most entertaining mermaids (er… mermaid-men?) you will see for a long time. Director Julie Herber outdid herself matching the roles to her gifted dozen performers. It is as if she yelled “send in the clowns!” and central casting sent her the cream of the crop.
Since she is outnumbered, let’s begin with the only girl among the guys – Molly Aster, as played with spunk by Caitlyn Joy. Reminding me of Harry Potter’s friend and female nudge Hermione, Joy was every inch a lady but let the wide-eyed, adventurous side shine through as well as her character’s strong sense of superiority and intelligence. Joy held her own with the virile and goofy menfolk in every scene.
Molly’s part of the story centers around her father’s need to transport valuable treasure of the British Empire to a remote land. Lord Aster, played by Reiner Prochaska, is a loyal and trusted subject of Queen Victoria and takes his job seriously, as well as his parenting of Molly. An overprotective father, Lord Aster insists Molly take a separate ship to the island of Rundoon, thinking it would be safer. Despite her protestations, her father convinces Molly she has an important part to play in their mission to deliver the precious cargo. Lord Aster boards the Wasp with the treasure-filled trunk. He makes sure Molly and her loyal and alliterative nanny, Mrs. Bumbrake – a hilarious performance by Thomas Scholtes – board the Neverland.
Meanwhile, three orphaned boys Prentiss, Ted and one without a name are pressed into service on board the Neverland, captained by the shady Bill Slank, who happens to be carrying a trunk that looks identical to Lord Aster’s on the other ship but contains only sand. The villainous Slank switches the trunks just before the ships set sail for Rundoon.
Molly meets the three boys and immediately takes a liking to the one without a name. MET veteran actor Matt Lee is perfectly suited to playing the Boy, balancing his loneliness, independence and wounded soul skilfully. Boy states several times, “I just want to remain a boy a little while longer,” so you can see a nice reveal coming later in the story.
As his fellow orphans, Prentiss – the self-proclaimed leader – and Ted, Daniel Valentin-Morales and Taylor Rieland play up the boyish qualities and form a central trio of competitive and restless spirits who stumble into adventures that would be the envy of any boy. Molly takes it on herself to guide these lost boys through the imaginative plot, becoming a big sister to them.
Peter and the Starcatcher
closes May 7, 2017
Details and tickets
The seafaring lot Molly and the boys encounter are as rollicking a ragtag rabble of piratical punks as ever sailed the seas of imagination and comedy. Matthew Crawford is a dashing and dastardly Slank, Robert Leembruggen provides seasoned comic relief among the clowns as Greggers (and the man who would be Smee). But it is the over-the-top pirate of all pirates Black Stache who really commands the pirate waters and nearly steals the show, as played with panache – and stache – by Joe Jalette. Preening, bellowing, purring, bullying and dashing, Jalette’s Black Stache makes for a worthy adversary to Molly and her boys.
The rest of the pirates, (Matt Harris and Ron Ward) more than hold their own with the pirate leaders. Add to the mix Ron Ward in multiple roles – a stern schoolmaster, pirate Sanchez, and the vengeful native leader Fighting Prawn – and you have yourself a cast well made.
Director Herber keeps the action moving at a breakneck pace, with the cast utilizing the intimate theatre space cleverly and with child-like playfulness. No props are what they seem to be, which adds to the delicious fun and storytelling. Kitchen objects are re-purposed as weapons, for example. Props master Katie Rattigan must have had a field day making all of them. Set designer Cecilia Lee and costume designer Stephanie Ryder brought their A-games to this production, providing the background and wardrobe for the actors to play and immerse themselves in the imaginative adventures.
As Peter and the Starcatcher goes deeper into the story, the revelations of who becomes whom in the Peter Pan canon become more and more clear. Fans of Peter Pan and awfully big adventures in Neverland should not be disappointed in the outcome. And as a theatre piece, this play revels in the sense of “play” that is sometimes lost in more traditional performances. Peter and the Starcatcher is a good tonic for anyone who can take a seat and open their hearts to believe.
Peter and the Starcatcher . A play by Rick Elice . Music by Wayne Barker . Director: Julie Herber . Featuring: Matthew Crawford, Matt Harris, Joe Jalette, Caitlyn Joy, Matt Lee, Robert Leembruggen, Jeremy Myers, Reiner Prochaska, Taylor Rieland, Thomas Scholtes, Daniel Valentin-Morales, and Ron Ward . Costume design: Stephanie Hyder . Set design: Cecelia Lee . Lighting design: Paul Schillinger . Music director: Jonas Dawson and Thom Huenger . Fight choreographer: Sarah Shulman . Dramaturg: Stephen Parnes . Stage manager: Bailey Sterling . Produced by Maryland Ensemble Theatre . Reviewed by Jeff Walker .