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Monday, 10 March 2014 00:37

'Peter and the Starcatcher' takes us on a brisk trip to Neverland

Written by Laura Kyro
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'Peter and the Starcatcher' takes us on a brisk trip to Neverland
peterandthestarcatcher.com

The Peabody Opera House recently played host to several performances of the Tony-winning “Peter and the Starcatcher,” based on a novel of the same name, and in subject a prequel to J. M. Barrie’s 1904 play and subsequent 1911 novel about Peter Pan, “Peter and Wendy.”

St. Louisan Ridley Pearson and noted humorist Dave Barry collaborated on the 2004 "Starcatcher" novel, which has been adapted for the stage by Rick Elice, and directed by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers. Although not a musical, there are some musical numbers in it, composed by Wayne Barker.

“Starcatcher” is, at its essence, a tale of a nameless orphan who faces a number of harrowing trials and tribulations on his way to owning the name of Peter Pan.

Act one takes place on the high seas. British nobleman Lord Aster (Nathan Bosner) has been charged by the Queen to destroy the magical (and therefore dangerous) "starstuff" contents of a large luggage trunk by sailing it on the ship Wasp to the island of Rundoon. Astor's young daughter, Molly (Megan Stern), is also going to Rundoon, but on the slower and supposedly safer ship, the Neverland, which is to carry a duplicate sand-filled trunk to mislead thieves. But Neverland captain Bill Slank (Jimonn Cole) has deviously managed to have the starstuff trunk loaded onto his ship instead of the Wasp. Captive in the belly of the Neverland are three orphans, including the nameless Boy, destined for slavery in another land. The Neverland is attacked by the Wasp, which has been taken over by pirate captain Black Stache (John Sanders) and his crew so as to steal the starstuff trunk. But Stache had only found the sand-filled trunk on the Wasp, and so knew it had to be on the Neverland. A hurricane builds, and as the Neverland breaks apart in the storm, Boy, now named Peter by Stache, floats on the starstuff trunk (the contents of which are slowly leaking into the sea) to nearby Mollusk Island, while the intrepid Molly swims her way there.

Act two takes place on the island, populated by a tribe called the Mollusks, led by Fighting Prawn (Lee Zarrett). The Mollusks capture Peter, Molly, and the other two orphans and throw them into a cage to be eaten by a crocodile. After escaping, however, Peter falls into a deep sea grotto in which the leaking star stuff has collected, and becomes able to be what he really wishes to be, which, in essence, is just a boy. While in the grotto a mermaid and the island itself give Peter a last name, Pan. Enter Black Stache and his first mate Smee (Luke Smith) and crew. Stache spies and opens the real trunk, from which the starstuff is now lost into the sea. In anger over finding an empty trunk, he slams the trunk lid closed on his hand, thereby severing it. The Mollusks arrive with Lord Aster their prisoner, but when Peter surrenders the trunk to Stache to save Molly, they call him a hero and all prisoners are released. Lord Astor prepares to leave to take Molly and Peter home to England, but when Peter relates his adventure in the grotto with starstuff, he is told he cannot leave. Peter consoles himself with the thoughts he can now be a boy (forever?) and oh, by the way, he can fly. Many years later Molly’s children, John, Wendy, and Michael, are taken by Peter to the island, now named Neverland.

In general, the pacing of “Peter and the Starcatcher” is brisk, sometimes breakneck, with only a couple of points where things drop off to near stagnation. The twelve actors, most of whom take multiple parts, are up to the action, but sometimes talk too fast and in accents, and are therefore difficult to understand. Two actors who I thought seemed especially memorable in their roles (in part because of their clear diction) were Megan Stern as Molly, and John Sanders as Black Stache.

Any magical wonder of this two-hour production is a purely a result of its technical achievements. The intricate sets (Donyale Werle, Set Designer) were functional and beautiful, the effects satisfying, and the multiple uses for several props most ingenious. Costumes (Paloma Young) suited the story well, and some, like the mermaid accouterments, were a lot of fun.

One neat activity arranged for the production was a booth in the lobby, set up prior to the performance, to take fish-eye pictures of audience members in a variety of funny hats, moustaches, spectacles, and signs. Resulting photos were given away to the photographees, and the photos immediately found their way to the production’s Facebook page.

I found the newly renovated Peabody to be beautiful, but the seats somewhat uncomfortable, and the addition of cupholders off the back of each seat at knee height were a definite impediment to people trying to pass through between narrow seat rows. Just saying.

For more information on upcoming events at the Peabody: peabodyoperahouse.com.

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