BWW Interview: Author Ridley Pearson Talks PETER AND THE STARCATCHER, Coming to the McCallum Tonight
The McCallum Theatre presents the five-time Tony Award winning musical play "Peter and the Starcatcher" for a limited engagement of five performances with one performance tonight, March 28, at 8:00pm; two performances on Saturday, March 29, at 2:00pm and 8:00pm, and two performances on Sunday, March 30, at 2:00pm and 7:30pm. Peter and the Starcatcher, a grown up's prequel to Peter Pan, is the innovative and imaginative musical play based on the best selling novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. A company of a dozen actors play more than a hundred unforgettable characters, all on a journey to answer the century old question: How did Peter Pan become The Boy Who Never Grew Up? I had the chance to chat briefly with author Ridley Pearson about Peter And The Starcatcher's incredible journey from page to stage.
Here are a few excerpts from that conversation:
DG: Tell me a little bit about you and your background. How did you and Dave Barry meet and how did the Starchatchers' journey begin?
RP: Dave (Barry) and I met in 1991 when we were invited to play in an all authors rock band to raise money for charity. It was going to be a one night show - and we've now been playing twenty three years and we've raised 2.5 million dollars for non-profits over the years - and to my surprise, in the band was Dave Barry, Any Tan, Stephen King, Barbara Kingsolver and Robert Fulghum. So, Dave and I became friends through the band and began vacationing with our families together - and twelve years ago, while I was reading to my daughter one night she asked me how Peter Pan met Captain Hook, and my little writer's light went off and I realized we didn't know why he could fly, why he never grows old, where Tinkerbell came from, how he could detach from his shadow, why he would want to do that - and as God would have it, a week later I was staying with Dave Barry, because we were performing one of these absurd shows of ours, and I mentioned this idea of a prequel to Peter Pan and we decided to collaborate - his childlike humor with my psychopathic-like suspense. And so we would try to write a suspenseful but humorous book about how a boy became the legend.
DG: What would you say is the overarching theme or message from your book?
RP: One of the things that the play gets so right from the book - and Rick Ellis' genius shines in -- is Peter And The Starcatchers - plural - was really a story about a boy getting what he wants, because star stuff gives you what you want - and what he wants is to never grow up and be childlike and to fly around - but he meets up with a very mortal young woman, who is a Starcatcher - in the novel and the play - and the poignant moment at the end is that the young woman is gonna go on to grow up and become a young woman and Peter, by getting what he wants, has held himself in his childlike ways and the sort of internal conflict that comes from getting what he wants and not being able to age with Molly.
DG: Were you involved in the process of going from your book to the stage play?
RP: Thanks to Thomas Shumacher, the incredible President of Disney Theatricals, and because Rick Ellis is such a generous soul, Dave and I were included in the entire evolutionary process of taking a book and turning it into a play. None of us knew if this would make the transition for book to play and Dave and I were lucky enough to see it in its infancy and in its adolescence and during its maturing years - which was The La Jolla Playhouse and the entire workshop process - and, finally, as it grew up and was able to go Off-Broadway, on to Broadway, win five Tony's and on to its incredible national tour.
DG: Tell me about the first time you saw it move from page to stage?
RP: I was given this incredible opportunity - Dave didn't take it, he was busy at the time - to join the creative Disney team in Williamstown. Roger (Rees) at that time was the Director of The Williamstown Theatre Festival and we went to Williams and in a little bar on Main Street we watched a very capable group of Williams' theatrical actors literally cut pages from our book and do a reading/walk through of several scenes. And then we had a two/two and half hour meeting after it - and, again, I was just a fly on the wall, I wasn't part of the creative team - but they let me watch as they discussed the good, the bad and the ugly of what was there and how to take that into something more dramatic and more theatrical. And, it turns out the guy I was sitting next to was a guy named Rick Ellis who, within a few months, would be the lauded Rick Ellis because Jersey Boys would come out and he was the co-writer of that. It was just fascinating to watch Rick and the Directors, the co-Directors, and Tom Shumacher discuss how to take the more dramatic elements and the more dramatic scenes of the book and move it into something more theatrical. And about a year later, Dave and I were in a basement of an Episcopal Church in Manhattan watching this all unfold --- because Rick had now written, I think, six or seven scenes. And, it wasn't our book, but it was an imaginative, wonderful vision of the themes of our book, and the characters of our book, but in a whole newly imagined way that simply shocked us ... in fact, Dave elbowed me and said "Where was Rick when we were writing our book?" (He laughs)
DG: What are you most excited about in the theatrical representation of your story?
RP: I grew up outside of New York and so I saw a lot of Broadway. And I have come to really admire what Tom Shumacher has been able to do taking his big tent pieces like "Lion King" and "Mary Poppins" and "Tarzan" and all of those shows to stage - he did it in a big, bright musical way. And I think what so thrilled me about "Peter And The Starcatcher" is that his and Rick's vision was a much more subdued "Nicholas Nickelby" raw theatre approach. And, even though I have now seen it approaching thirty times I still get chills when I see the actors take a piece of rope and make a doorway, or a ladder, or a stairway, or a hatch out of it. And I watch the awe on the faces of the people in the crowd as they realize that the props are this animated world of rope and ladders turned into amazing pieces that you really believe as doorways, as windows, as hatches. That raw theatre, theatrical element is still the thing that gives e goosebumps.
Peter and the Starcatcher won five 2012 Tony Awards (the most of any play of the 2011-2012 season) and was named one of New York Times, New York Magazine and New Yorker's Top 10 Shows of the Year. The McCallum Theatre presents Peter and the Starcatcher for five performances - Friday, March 28, at 8:00pm; Saturday, March 29, at 2:00pm and 8:00pm; and Sunday, March 30, at 2:00pm and 7:30pm. Tickets are available at the Theatre's website atwww.mccallumtheatre.com, or by calling the McCallum Theatre Box Office at (760) 340-ARTS.