BWW Review: PETER AND THE STARCATCHER Makes You Want to Fly
Chaos trapped in a bottle, small fairy satire pounding on the glass door of a lantern, spraying pixie dust over those nearby. The radiant light, the purity of character and humor, is what alights the flame of Roxanna Lewis' Peter and the Starcatcher, a show pressing so dangerously against the ropes with talent that it's astonishing the show can be reigned in at all. A two and a half hour marathon of absurdism, clever dancing around endless prop pieces, Peter and the Starcatcher is the most intriguing theatrical experiment an audience could have ever envisioned from such a colorful flight to Neverland.
Peter and the Starcatcher has a menagerie of scripts that shuffle as precariously as the show itself. The cast must constantly move between characters, all the while creating a loose set with their bodies, ropes, and appendages. Director Lewis pushed the script's fluidity into her communal cast, forging and weaving bonds that bend and shape between each cast member an indescribable figure. This magic, a spark of unity in wit, brings Peter and the Starcatcher into the sky.
Starcatcher is based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, which chronicles a new tale of how Peter became Pan. The script adds modern reference, allusion to pop culture, and insanely experimental shifts between scenes and reality that awarded the original productions a gallery of awards.
Leading the cast of Peter's origin are Pan himself, played by Ron Shreve, the sharp Molly Aster, played by Taylor Kearschner, and the caricaturish evil of Black Stache, the elegant Al Emerick. This trio wrestles out of the ensemble with a cheery gusto, from Kearschner's impeccable wit to Emerick's dastardly charm. Shreve's protagonist sees growth, and while he may be double the age he portrays, never once can his innocence be doubted. Embodying the desires of the youth in all, Shreve delivers a riveting performance as the iconic lost boy. Kearschner, alongside his growth (if not facilitating the entire process), brings a focal unity to the chaos swirling around her. Her insistence on leadership proves vital as her role seems to be the glue holding the tempest to the stage. As soon as Emerick dons his black mustache, the quipping villain steals scene-after-scene with a dangerous array of allusions, word-play, and the physical humor that gives Peter an enemy worthy of his guile.
Having three pillars does not mean that the supporting cast ever have the weight lifted from their shoulders. The remaining ensemble fills in roles as major as Mrs. Bumbrake to the minor as Sanchez, but each goes through the ringer as lost boys, pirates, British crew-men, mermaids, and set pieces.
Daniel Austin is a riot as Mrs. Bumbrake and Teacher, donning an absurd dress over his sailor outfit and giving a classic Shakespearean drag performance. Austin's hilarity is matched neck and neck with Jason Collins' Alf, a character whose hammy largesse and bodily humor dominate the stage. The duo is a joy, a minor secondary plot balances so well as to never threaten the main plot while also being unforgettable as soon as they leave the stage. Equally joyous, in a one man duo, is Jeffrey Rommel's Smee. The lovable, bumbling cohort to Emerick continues to check his wit, and keeps attention on Emerick with the power of a great wing-man.
Each actor throws their hat into the tornado, with Rich Pintello's snarling Captain Bill Slank stealing laughs in the first act, Paul Jason Baker's outrageous Italian shenanigans in his second act's Fighting Prawn, Bill White's smooth and authoritative voice as Lord Aster, and Matt Barnes' Captain Robert Falcon Scott keeping things a bit more grounded in reality. Malik Bilbrew's sass and Jordan Born's bluffs give them a perfect foil to Shreve's Peter, and solidifying a minor triad in the second act.
Not one actor falls out of the show, not one performance outside of the ensemble community. Lewis' intent of making the show's fluidity fall onto her actors bonds is a feat that shoots to the stars and straight on til morning.
Lewis enlisted a short-list of two technical designers to co-opt her show, technical director Tim Watson and costume designer Kimberly Burns. Watson handled the lighting, set, and prop design; Watson's design encompasses the majority of the visuals in Peter and the Starcatcher, a feat he handles admirably. Watson's set is grander than the original Broadway, focusing on a smartly assymetric and chaotic structure of drift-wood, aerial silks, tied ropes, and cargo boxes. His lighting designs are subtle, working well off the wood, but popping when the action calls it to. His props, further, define much of the action and success. Watson's work is the dash of pixie dust that lifts the performers.
No matter how high they fly, each would be barren without Burn's nuanced design schemes. Her slight touches, from the detailing on Peter's coat to the gorgeous galaxy leggings Molly wears, are a brush stroke are color across the stage. Her pieces in the opening of act two (the Nerf gun bra, with real firing action) are what dazzles, but her detailed touches on Molly's boots are what set her skills apart.
Hidden behind the chaos is the smart, and strangely placed musical additions to the script. Handling the brunt of the minor orchestra and vocal talents is Erin Barnes, delicately interweaving the tenors across the scenes in a supportive fashion that best fits the show.
All things considered, Lewis has wrangled a rag-tag team of lost souls and turned them into a highly functioning ship. Theatre Jacksonville's Peter and the Starcatcher is a fast moving, impossible to miss ride of high intellect and performative grace. Whether a huge fan of Peter Pan lore or just someone along for the show, think happy thoughts, and have you hoping to never say goodbye.
Peter and the Starcatcher plays at Theatre Jacksonville Jan. 13th-29th. Parental guidance is recommended. Tickets can be purchased online or at the door.