BWW Reviews: PETER AND THE STARCATCHER Provides Something to Believe In
In 2012 when "Peter and the Starcatcher" made its debut on Broadway, the positive word-of-mouth from the theatre community in New York focused largely on its uniqueness among the other shows on Broadway (and Off-Broadway, for that matter). We Chicagoans are a lucky bunch, however, because the style of a show like "Peter and the Starcatcher" is not so different than the work you find at such storefront theatres around the city as, say, House Theatre. And, it's an exciting thing when a show that so resembles the work of Chicago storefront theatres finds a successful life in commercial venues.
It's this creativity and uniqueness that is "Peter and the Starcatcher's" strongest suit and the main reason to go see the National Tour during its short time in Chicago at the Bank of America Theatre. Telling the backstory of Peter Pan and how he and his Neverland came to be (based off of the children's books written by Dave Berry and Ridley Pearson), "Peter and the Starcatcher" makes use of a few props and a lot of talent from its actors to create the beautiful world of the show.
The touring production is nearly entirely intact from its Broadway run; the only noticeable difference is that while the ensemble here is chock-full of talent (and energy), they seem to be missing the finely-tuned tightness of all of the movements that the Broadway ensemble had. Not to say the actors are sloppy; there just feels like the slightest bit of simply going through the motions, as opposed to hitting each movement with the precision and force demonstrated by the Broadway cast.
There is, however, one actor who surpasses his Broadway counterpart: Peter himself. We first meet Peter when he was known only as "Boy," a quiet, brooding orphan who has been treated terribly throughout his short life and who is warily hopeful at finding a saving grace in his new friend, Molly (the Starcatcher). Originally played by Adam Chanler-Berat on Broadway, there was something about Peter that I had a hard time fully sympathizing with. Perhaps it was that he, right away, seemed a little too egotistical and self-assured and, well, bratty. These are certainly qualities we see from the Pan of the Disney movies, and can absolutely be used as a cover for the underlying hurt and insecurity he holds, but "Peter and the Starcatcher" is about how Peter becomes that usual Pan figure we know. Chanler-Berat's portrayal didn't allow for as much growth as Peter should go through after this journey.
However, Joey Debettencourt, who steps into the role of Peter on this touring production, understands just how much the power of someone believing in Peter can do for him. So, while he still shows early signs of the self-assured Pan we all know and love, he really takes note of the emotional scarring that Peter has gone through and the audience is, very early on, in his corner. We all believe in him from the get-go and, when Peter does start to believe in himself, it's a wholly rewarding and fulfilling moment.
Fittingly, the other stand-out in the cast is Peter's nemesis, John Sanders, as Black Stache. The hilarious Sanders has the audience in the palm of his hand the entire evening, but never more than when we learn how Black Stache becomes Captain Hook. Sanders caps off his performance with this simple, but brilliant, moment that has the crowd in stitches ; a moment that went on for maybe half a minute and could have gone on as long as he wished and the audience would still be right there with him.
The theatrics are great and the innovation is continuously surprising and exciting, but one of the things that makes "Peter and the Starcatcher" such a successful story is the great amount of heart it has. It almost comes as a surprise (but a welcome one) in moments where the hammy shtick is dropped and real warmth and heart shine through. It's in these moments that Debettencourt's ability to take Peter through a true emotional journey is so appreciated.
With Sanders at the helm of the comedy and Debettencourt proving Peter is a hero to root for, "Peter and the Starcatcher" will surely leave you clapping in belief.
"Peter and the Starcatcher" is currently playing at the Bank of America Theatre (18 W. Monroe) through April 13th. Tickets are available at www.BroadwayinChicago.com or by calling (800) 775-2000.
Photo Credit: Jenny Anderson