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BWW Review: Orlando Shakes' PETER AND THE STARCATCHER is Childlike Fun, but Lacks Potential Magic


Ahoy mateys, two ships with very special cargo have docked at the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre. The H.M.S. Wasp and Neverland have brought a thoroughly enjoyable production of the Tony-winning play PETER AND THE STARCATCHER to town for the holidays. Framed by a group of touring British actors, the play requires a willing suspension of disbelief. With simple, multipurpose props and set pieces, the capable cast transforms the stage into ships racing across the ocean and a not-so deserted island where an ancient brand of magic leads to excitement and adventure.

As much fun as it is, Orlando Shakes' PETER AND THE STARCATCHER, running through January 3rd, is one of those frustratingly good productions where no one involved seems to have made a single misstep, yet there still feels like something is missing. The cast is charming and funny, the direction (by Michael Carleton) is tight and specific, and the design is playful and creative. However, the production as a whole is still missing that magic, or fairy dust if you will, necessary to make a whimsical show like this one achieve its utmost potential. As it is, PETER AND THE STARCATCHER is an entertaining evening of childlike escapism, but it is clear that, just below the surface, the show has the ability to engage and mesmerize the imaginations of audiences young and old when all of the stars are aligned.

Chris Mixon, Perry Ojeda, and Mark Ferrera in PETER AND THE STARCATCHER
Photo Credit: Tony Firriolo | Orlando Shakespeare

Based on the book by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, a prequel to J.M. Barrie's beloved Peter Pan series, the play tells the tale of how Peter transformed from an everyday orphan into "the boy who wouldn't grow up." Two identical trunks (one containing the Queen's "treasure" and another a decoy) are placed separately on the Wasp and the Neverland, each guarded by a member of the royal order of Starcatchers. Well, actually, the trunk on the Wasp is guarded by Lord Leonard Aster (Paul Bernardo), a full-fledged Starcatcher, while the Neverland's is accompanied by Aster's 13-year-old daughter Molly (the wonderful Katrina Michaels), only an apprentice Starcatcher.

Aboard the ships is a collection of characters that range from earnest and true, to dastardly and greedy, yet there is something silly and warm about each. Also on board the Neverland is a young, nameless boy being sold into slavery, played by Stephen James Anthony. The stubborn boy and the precocious Molly form a touching friendship as each discovers his or her own destiny, all the while battling a foppish villain known as Black Stache (Perry Ojeda).

This play with music is a mad-cap comedy that gives each of the individual actors opportunities to shine. However, chief amongst them is Michaels, the cast's lone woman. She is a delightful mix of fearlessness and naiveté. Her magnetic charisma and the ever-present sparkle in her eye are undoubtedly two of the show's strongest assets. Anthony's sullen boy provides an enjoyable counter to Michael's lively Molly. Anthony admirably shows the deeply entrenched scars that the boy has endured leading him to profoundly mistrust adults, a fact that will play a significant role in his future.

Ojeda is magnificent as the malaprop bad guy. While he doesn't chew nearly as much scenery as some of his dialogue would indicate, his unusual search for a hero puts an interesting spin on the legends that we all know.

The entire keystone-ensemble is fantastic, but features phenomenal performances from Larry Daggett as Mrs. Bumbrake, Mark Ferrera as Smee, Chris Mixon as Alf, and Stephen Lima as Fighting Prawn (amongst others). Whether they are sailors, pirates, natives, or mermaids, the group is incredibly game and fun.

The Cast of PETER AND THE STARCATCHER. Photo Credit: Tony Firriolo | Orlando Shakespeare

The nameless boy's fellow orphans Ted and Prentiss, played respectively by Topher Embrey and James Putnam, are quite amusing as well.

The script by Rick Elice, and music by Wayne Barker, is always witty, often using clever wordplay to elicit unexpected laughs. In addition to Carleton's inventive direction, Bert Scott's scenic design, Jack Smith's costume design, and Eric T. Haugen's lighting design are all incredibly imaginative, and each provided their own moments of humor and subtle spectacle.

Even though the story can be a bit convoluted, the specifics of the plot don't matter, as the entire team, from creatives to cast, works together beautifully to create an exciting world where anything is possible. While I still think that the production has untapped reservoirs of magic, it is more than a worthy addition to Orlando's holiday slate. Whether you are young or old, as long as you still have your imagination and a sense of wonder, chances are strong that you will believe in PETER AND THE STARCATCHER. Purchase your tickets by visiting Orlando Shakes' website, or by calling 407-447-1700.

Did you set sale with PETER AND THE STARCATCHER? Let me know what you thought in the comments below, or by "Liking" and following BWW Orlando on Facebook and Twitter by using the buttons below. You can also chat with me about the show on Twitter @BWWMatt. If you want to follow along with my "366 in 366" articles, you can check out #BWW366in366 on Twitter.

Banner Image: Topher Embrey, Stephen James Anthony, and James Putnam in PETER AND THE STARCATCHER. Photo Credit: Tony Firriolo | Orlando Shakespeare

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