BWW Reviews: PETER AND THE STARCATCHER Delights in Los Angeles Debut
What happens when you combine a nameless boy, a ship called Neverland, a duplicitous Pirate and some rope? Theatrical magic. And that is exactly what happened when "Peter and the Starcatcher" opened last night at the Ahmanson Theatre in downtown Los Angeles.
Adapted for the stage by Rick Elice from the 2004 book of the same name (written by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson), "Peter and the Starcatcher" is a prequel of sorts to J.M. Barrie's classic Peter and Wendy, providing origin stories for the unforgettable characters of Peter Pan, Captain Hook, Wendy and even Tinkerbell. The play tells the story of how a nameless orphan (played with youthful vigor and optimism by Joey deBettencourt) becomes the immortal Peter Pan. Along the way, he encounters a beautiful young girl, Molly, and a evil pirate, Black Stache, in an fun, fast-moving, almost farcical-like tale of a ship that is supposed to deliver a piece of precious cargo for the Queen of the British Empire. But when pirates swap the Queen's trunk with a decoy filled with sand, it sets the bigger story in motion to a delightful effect. It is both simple and complex, funny and scary, and enjoyable and engaging as any bedtime story, but with an intelligence that makes for an incredible night of theatre.
The story alone could provide a satisfying evening of entertainment, but the play, staged brilliantly by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers, is wildly inventive and creative in presenting this wickedly funny tale. Almost like an English pantomime in spirit, Rees and Timbers create a rich fantasy tableaux, not through use of fancy sets and over the top production design, but through simple yet imaginative use of rope, flags, a ladder, two toy boats, and a few household items. (Kudos to the production and costume designers, Donyale Welre and Paloma Young, respectively for creating an amazing canvas for the company to play with). Through creative manipulation, the cast uses these minimal props to magnificent effect transforming them from everyday objects into huge sea swells, cramped cabins, hallways, shipwrecks and even a hungry crocodile. It's all thrillingly clever and magical to witness, and puts a huge smile on your face as your mind puts the pieces together with the knowledge of the classic tale.
Which brings me to the cast... Regardless of whatever devices and imaginative force Rees and Timbers could cook up, they would be meaningless and fall flat without a first rate cast to bring them to life. And this cast has talent in spades, each actor creating a distinct persona for their character, even if just for one line, with amazing physicality and facial expressions and wide eyed enthusiasm to make sure everyone in the audience is having a great time throughout the evening. Special kudos go out to John Sanders, who plays villainous pirate Black Stache, who self-admittedly chews scenery, and gleefully so. There's one moment in particular in the second act that he performs will the most delicious reckless abandon, and in doing so is able to turn three simple words, "Oh my god!" into a hilarious monologue that leaves you in stitches.
So head out to the Ahmanson for a perfect holiday treat!
"Peter and the Starcatcher" is playing now through January 12th at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre at 135 N. Grand Ave., with performances Tuesday through Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m and Sunday at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. See the website, though, for exceptions and additions to this schedule for the holiday. Tickets are available online at CenterTheatreGroup.org, by calling Center Theatre Group Audience Services at 213.972.4400, or in person at the Center Theatre Group box office at the Music Center.