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BWW Reviews: PETER AND THE STARCATCHER is a Wild Ride Worth Taking

As the British Empire was approaching it's zenith, J. M. Barrie struck a long-lasting cultural nerve with his character of Peter Pan. The imaginative boy first appeared in the 1902 novel The Little White Bird. In 1904, the character's most beloved adventure premiered as a play entitled THE BOY WHO WOULDN'T GROW UP. 111 years later audiences are still fascinated by the character. Currently, in Houston, the highly lauded and aWard Garnering Peter and the Starcatcher, a prequel to the Peter Pan story we all know, is sending Houston audiences on fanciful flights of whimsy.

Rick Elice, best known for writing the book for JERSEY BOYS, based his play Peter and the Starcatcher off of Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson's 2004 novel Peter and the Starcatchers. The writing excels on many levels, from effortlessly mixing in anachronistic references to induce riotous laughter to being deeply complex and thought provoking. From the opening to the closing of the play, the audience is treated to a script that requires the use of our own imaginations to complete the imagery. We see adults engaging in childlike imaginative play, breaking the fourth wall often to chime in on the story they are telling us.

Direction by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers captures the spirit of the show. The first act, full of exposition, is dark and rather heavy. The second act, where we start to really see all the pieces fit together and lay the groundwork for the Peter Pan story, is much lighter and has more laughs than the first act. Despite this, the entire cast, which is on stage in its entirety for a majority of the production, fully commits to portraying these characters. The dastardly pirates that are brimming with corrupt humanity prevail in the first act, while open space, goodness, and plucky resilience take over in the second act, creating a much more mirthful tone that engages the audience in a completely different way.

Going into the show, I kept hearing that movement was a big deal in the production. After seeing the show, I am completely blown away by Steven Hoggett's remarkable work, with assistance from Movement Associate Patrick McCollum and Fight Director Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum. Donyale Werle's Scenic Design for the production is constrictive and highly claustrophobic, especially in the first act. However, Steven Hoggett brilliantly has the cast fill the entire space alternating between characters, set pieces, and props at the drop of a hat. In doing this, the abundance of energy on the stage bursts through the cramped set and infects the audience with its wit and charm. Likewise, gone are the wires that usually lift actors off the ground, but members of the cast the still manage to fly and soar because of the way the show is staged and blocked.

The entirety of the small ensemble cast does resplendent jobs enthusiastically entertaining audiences. While the firsts act's wearisome doldrums do get a bit overwhelming at times, the wonderfully sprightly second act is the perfect balance. In both acts, the cast delightfully oversells the uniquely imaginative production, jumping in and out of character and stage pictures that aid in this decidedly Victorian and almost vaudeville style of storytelling. This energetic and highly active cast of 12 leaves audiences feeling as though they've seen a cast of hundreds as they cleverly slip in and out of different characters and situations. In fact, the only complaint I have with the show was that some of the enunciation and diction falls apart, making some lines hard to hear.

Standouts from the cast include Joey deBettencourt's adventurous Boy, Megan Stern's boldly heroic yet nurturing Molly, and John Sanders' hysterically physical and zany Black Stache. I also found myself quite taken with Edward Tournier and Carl Howell's spirited characterizations of Ted and Prentiss and Benjamin Schrader's astutely comical Mrs. Bumbrake. Lastly, the entire cast astounds the audience with their mermaids at the top of Act II. If for no other reason, you must see Peter and the Starcatcher for this sublimely sidesplitting scene.

Scenic Design by Donyale Werle is fascinating and entirely imaginative. The backdrops created give a sense of location, but it is the incorporation of "found objects" as props that truly bring the visuals to life. Using what most would consider trash items, like used pieces of ropes and weathered umbrellas, Donyale Werle's Scenic Design requires the cast to manipulate everyday items into ship decks, doors, trees, and more.

Paloma Young's Costume Design follows suit in many ways. The basis for her pieces are elements of Victorian garb with modestly modern touches. As the cast shifts in and out of other characters, Paloma Young craftily dresses them with elements that highlight the different personas. Yet, her mermaid costumes are show stealers, bringing the house down with uncontrolled and riotous laughter before the cast can even utter a single syllable.

Light Design by Jeff Croiter is incredibly complex. On the low hanging grid system, the audience is able to see the multitude of various instruments used by the production. Furthermore, no instrument is misused, creating a dazzling light show that is impressively artistic and pleasingly gorgeous. Tone and mood enhancing color washes fill the stage while special effects lighting highlight the whimsically dream-like elements of the show.

Despite the copious awards, audiences in Houston really didn't know what to expect from Peter and the Starcatcher last night. The first act left many of us in complete awe of just how different the show was. A small handful left bewildered and dissatisfied after the first act, but those of us who stuck it out were magically transported and elevated by the second act. From start to finish Peter and the Starcatcher zips along and requires audiences to attend to the production to fully comprehend it. Ultimately, Peter and the Starcatcher is a quickly paced show and a wild ride worth taking.

PETER AND THE STARCATCHER, presented by Broadway Across America - Houston, plays the Sarofim Hall at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby Street, Houston, 77002, now through October 20, 2013. Performances are Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday evening at 7:30pm, Friday and Saturday evening at 8:00pm, and Saturday and Sunday afternoon at 2:00pm. For tickets and more information, please visit http://houston.broadway.com or call (800) 952-6560.

Photos by Jenny Anderson. Courtesy of Broadway Across America - Houston.


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