Review - Peter And The Starcatcher
Last season's debate over whether the Best Play Tony should be awarded for the quality of the written text or for the production as a whole - set off by the nomination and subsequent victory of War Horse - is likely to be brought up again if the raucously funny and surprisingly tender Peter And The Starcatcher is included among this year's nominees.
Rick Elice's text, based on the same-named novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson - a prequel to J. M. Barrie's tale of Peter Pan - is just as good a comedy as War Horse is a drama, but helping to make the genial silliness palatable (there are corny puns aplenty and a couple of bodily function bits) is the brilliantly fun staging by co-directors Roger Rees and Alex Timbers, that tells a spectacular fairy tale story though wonderfully clever low-budget theatrics.
13-year-old Molly (a very proper Celia Keenan-Bolger), the daughter of "starcatcher," Lord Aster (Rick Holmes), while on board the good ship Neverland, attempts to rescue a young orphan who will eventually be named Peter (scrappy Adam Chanler-Berat) from being sold into slavery, while keeping close guard of a large trunk that contains, as her father says, "the greatest treasure on earth." (In order to keep her mission secret, the two of them communicate in the language of the dodo bird.)
But there is piracy afoot, particulary in the show-stealing antics of Christian Borle, who sports a thick, black soup-strainer as the villainous Black Stache. His maniacally hammy performance, reminiscent of Groucho Marx in his side-splitting wise-cracking and mock-balletic physicality, frequently threatens to pack the rest of the production in a valise so he can carry it home with him. (At one point he charges onto the stage upon hearing that a crocodile has been seen chewing the scenery: "Not during my scenes!.")
Set designer Donyale Werle frames the stage in a beautifully golden, classically Victorian proscenium arch, but underneath, the play's many locales are achieved impressionistically, with the help of Jeff Croiter's distinctive lighting. In some instances, a long rope held just right is all that's needed to create an assortment of places.
Act II opens with Borle leading the almost entirely male company, dressed in Paloma Young's makeshift mermaid outfits highlighted by shiny vegetable steamers that add sparkle to their breasts, in a nutty music hall number that suggests the lunacy yet to come.
When the story resumes, the shipwrecked characters are now on an island where the inhabitants' leader (Teddy Bergman) barks out orders that sound like the specials at an Italian bistro. This half reveals the secrets behind why Peter never grows up, where Tinkerbelle came from, how Captain Hook lost his hand and other details of Barrie's classic characters. It all makes perfect sense and is really quite touching, particularly in the performances of Bolger and Chanler-Berat, who compete for leadership while escaping danger, but who also grow to admire and respect each other while feeling the first tingles of adolescent affection.
Peter and the Starcatcher makes for an excellent piece of family entertainment. The youngsters will enjoy the physical comedy and there's a strong central female character. And there's verbal wit a-plenty for the adults. While set in the early 20th Century, there are scattered modern references used as punch lines (Stache describes Molly's trunk as, "Elusive as the melody in a Philip Glass opera."), but the wackiness of the evening embraces such anachronisms just as naturally as audiences will be embracing Peter and the Starcatcher.