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Review: Pan Origin Story PETER AND THE STARCATCHER at Ridgefield Theater Barn

Through June 25

Review: Pan Origin Story PETER AND THE STARCATCHER at Ridgefield Theater Barn
The tale's heroine Molly (the future
​​​​​ (Mrs. Darling) backed by two of the Lost Boys.

Two words that neatly describe the experience of seeing stage shows at Connecticut's Ridgefield Theater Barn are "adventurous" and "fun." That pair of attributes come fully to the fore in its current production of Peter and the Starcatcher.

Adapted by Rick Elice from a best-selling children's book of the same name by Ridley Pearson and famed humorist Dave Barry, it tells the story - in whimsically ramshackle, neo-vaudeville style - of how a nameless 13-year-old orphan became airborne Peter Pan, how Hook lost his hand, and how Tinker Bell came to life, among other hallmarks of J.M. Barrie's timeless tale.

While this is not a standard musical, there are a few well-placed musical interludes throughout the show whose atmospheric value is welcome and appropriate.

Peter and the Starcatcher made a splash on Broadway a dozen years ago, garnering several Tony Awards, mainly in the craft categories (scenic design, sound, lighting, choreography). It boosted the profile of Tony-winner (for Featured Actor) Christian Borle (of TV's Smash), in the flamboyant role of bumptious pirate The Black Stache.

For regular theater-goers accustomed to more traditional Broadway fare, what's notably different about this entertainment is explained in the program by the production's director. "Peter and the Starcatcher is story theater," writes Katherine Ray. "with actors taking on multiple roles and providing narration. The set is barebones ... requiring audiences to use their mind's eye to see what isn't literally there. Instead, come along like a child and pretend with all of us. When I was a kid my favorite time of day was getting together with my friends, going down to the basement to play pretend."

That analogy notwithstanding, this emphatically is not a basement production by any stretch of the imagination. That's because the other word that describes Theater Barn's modus operandi is "quality-conscious."

The show flaunts chuckle-worthy pop culture references and groan-worthy puns to spare; even if, at times, it can be a little tricky to keep track of the tumultuous goings-on on stage. Yet, that occasional leakage doesn't really get in the way of the enjoyment. At the performance I saw, the laughs came fast and frequently. (Theater Barn makes a good time easier to have by encouraging patrons to bring their own food and beverage for consumption at cabaret seating within one hour of the show.)

The story is constructed as a sketchbook of rapid-fire episodes -- emulating the spontaneity of improv sketches -- that lean heavily on the performing chops of the ensemble -- and director -- to pull off the constant rush of activity flooding the stage. This ensemble -- under the witty and stage-savvy supervision of maestro Katherine Ray -- is up to task.

Their tight-knit teamwork conjures a frolicsome fantasy world -- and, remember, they do it without traditional scenic design -- that approximates a theme park attraction. You might even call this a live-action metaverse, with meta also describing the breaking of the fourth-wall that occurs routinely during the show. (One actor stopped at my table, as he passed through the audience, to ask me, while still in character, "Do you know the wi-fi password?" Sorry to say, I couldn't help him.)

Leading the way in the cast are the hilarious Matt Austin as Black Stache (pre-Capt. Hook), Alex Hartofelis as Boy (pre-Peter Pan) and Laura Jeanne Portera as Molly Aster (pre-Mrs. Darling).

I was fascinated by the sharp contrast in the indelible portrayals of Stache and Peter. Matt Austin lifts the show every time he is on stage, milking his comedic role for all it's worth by effortlessly exuding hilarious theatricality. He puts it all out there, and the audience feasts on it.

As a universal symbol of childhood innocence (Peter), Alex Hartofelis's form of intensity, on the other hand, is turned fully inward, yet is all the more affecting for the unwavering truth he lives every moment he is on stage. Dissimilar as they are in emotive expression, their performances are equally outstanding.

As Molly, whose father has taught her to catch magical "star stuff" (a la stardust) when it falls from the sky, Laura Jeanne Portera is a captivating dynamo, creating a female force to be reckoned with, and at the same time gracefully conveying an adolescent sense of wonder and optimism. She has naturally appealing and quietly confident stage presence.

In alphabetical order, the rest of the commendable cast, who take on a raft of roles, are Gabby Babun, Olivia Basile, Lizzy Booth, Cara Elizabeth Bunning, Hannah Rapaglia, Patrick R. Spadaccino, Michael Valinoti, Tarah Margaret Vega, Bill Warncke, Michael Wright.

Production Manager is Pamme Jones. Assistant Director is Rae Janeil Sutherland. Choreographer is Sharon Houk. Musical Director is Rodney Loren. Lighting Designer is Mark Hankla. Costumes by Warner Theatre. Stage Manager is Pippa Walton. Lighting Board Operator is Nell Walton. Assistant Stage Manager is Carolyn Neugarten. Lindsay Carroll is summer intern (props and costumes).

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