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BWW Review: PETER AND THE STARCATCHER Tells a tale of two acts

J.M. Barrie, the Scottish journalist turned playwright who famously created Peter Pan, surely could never have envisioned 'Peter and the Starcatcher' over a century after his original play was staged in London. Yet, there are certainly aspects of this modern work that he may have thoroughly enjoyed, and with which he would have been quite familiar. To wit: the Vaudevillianesque incidental music moving the actors and staging from one scene to another as the play progresses. Complemented by Roaring 20's Charleston music and Vaudeville musical romps heard in some of the full length songs in the show.

'Peter and the Starcatcher' was adapted as a stage play by Rick Elice based on the 2004 popular children's novel of the same name written by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. It was the first in an ongoing Peter Pan series that now totals five books. These books led to a companion series of Never Land chapter books for younger readers, also by Barry and Pearson.

Of course, everyone knows the ageless tale of Peter Pan and Neverland and not wanting to grow up. 'Peter and the Starcatcher' is the "prequel", if you will, to the story we all know and love. And, here's where we begin our review of Circuit Playhouse's production of 'Peter and the Starcatcher'.

The story is simple enough, or so it seems. In Act One, Peter and his orphan friends, the Lost Boys, ostensibly from the Norbert Wayward Home for Children, are to take a sea voyage to become indentured servants to an evil King in a faraway place. While on this adventure Peter meets a new, mysterious friend, Molly, on the ship Neverland. She is traveling with her father, Leonard Aster. Secrets abound. One being that the ship contains a magical treasure, with unnamed powers. Known only to the Captain, and Aster, and few others.

But news of this great treasure has found its way to the dastardly pirate, 'Black Stache', and his equally dastardly sidekick, a ferocious crocodile named Mr. Grin. Black Stache pursues the Neverland, boards her and steals the treasure and takes Molly and Peter and their friends as prisoners. But his ship founders during a storm on the high seas and is shipwrecked on Mollusk Island.

There are hijinks, danger, occasional boredom and frenetic staging aplenty in both acts.

The Second Act takes place on Mollusk Island. Where Peter and Molly try to figure out the "magic" of the treasure which is known as "starstuff", and what it could portend for their futures. They agree to guard its "secret" from evil and evildoers. Yet, once they have disposed of Black Stache and Mister Grin and accompanying evil types like Slank, Molly and her father choose to leave the island. Leaving behind the "starstuff" with Peter and his Lost Boys - James, Thomas, Prentiss and Tubby Ted, to guard. Peter calls the island Neverland. And Molly returns to England where she grows up to be the mother of the famous "Wendy".

What fantastically comes around, goes around, it seems.

The actors in this Circuit Playhouse production, directed by Bob Hetherington, are uniformly excellent, if overly energized. Standouts included diminutive powerhouse, Maggie Robinson as Molly; Boy (Peter) was relentlessly, yet appropriately over-the-top (for this piece) and frenetically portrayed by Dane Van Brocklin. It also featured the terrific David Foster as the dastardly pirate, Black Stache; with the hilarious and "demurely" engaging Michael Gravois as Mrs. Bumbrake; along with Jason Gerhard as Tubby Ted.

In fact, the entire show was pretty well cast. Though the actors are so well-rehearsed, that they stood out like a foghorn cutting through the misty, driving rains of a stormy night raging on the sea. A non sequitur to the troubling issues inherent in the book. Hence, A Tale of Two Acts.

Mr. Hetherington's direction was precise in its imprecise freneticism. These actors must have attended a boot camp to get ready for this show. They unquestionably worked their collective behinds off. That was obvious and appreciated by most of the audience, myself included. The actors ambitious and furiously paced blocking and dialogue kept the show from collapsing in on itself. The often clever staging and inventive, silly, outrageously kitschy sets and set pieces helped keep the show modestly entertaining in certain scenes throughout the performance.

But could all the staging, and nonstop activity overcome the glacially paced storyline and muddled dialogue, especially in the first act? Unfortunately, it did not. The result was a mind-numbingly dull first act. Some folks even walked out and did not return.

The second act opened in front of the curtain as stagehands created the visually cool Mollusk Island set behind them. The second act opening was the truly inspired and hilarious "Mermen" sequence. Bodie-oh-doe, and on with the show. All they needed was a resurrected Rudy Vallee warbling into a megaphone to complete the staging. This showstopper was easily the highlight of the night. The second act, shorter than the first, also moved with somewhat better pacing and better writing.

There was some clever minimalist choreography by Jordan Nichols. A terrific and engaging set (by small theater standards) designed by Erik Diaz. The lighting, designed by Zo Haynes, was moody and interesting, if often a bit too dark. Caleb Blackwell designed the costumes, and it all worked. The music tracks, on the night I attended a performance, were troublesome and a little muddy in the first act. Though it did improve during the second act.

Overall, I liked the second act somewhat better than the first. But, even though the pace of the blocking and staging approached near-military precision and seeming effortlessness throughout, coupled with astonishing energy and uniformly good ensemble performances in both acts, it often felt like it wasn't enough to overcome the fundamental problems in the book.

What made the show watchable to me were the actors. They were having such a rip-roaring good time, that despite the less-then-engaging book, some of the audience became immersed in the actor's infectious frivolity and high octane performances.

PETER AND THE STARCATCHER

Circuit Playhouse

Through June 26th

Playhouse On the Square



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From This Author Daniel Martine

Daniel Martine is a show-biz lifer, 40 years worth. He is a published writer, former dancer, film/theatre actor, screenplay writer, playwright, director and producer. He (read more...)