BWW Review: PETER AND THE STARCATCHER at South Bend Civic Center
In reference to the traditionally male-majority casting of Peter and the Starcatcher, Director Grace Lazarz states "To me, greater artistic opportunity for women is one small way to move in a different direction-to tell the same story but do it in a more radical way. And thus, the all-female cast of Peter and the Starcatcher and a fierce, strange, bold sisterhood were born!" The notion was intriguing enough, but how well would it work? I pondered the show's chance of success continuously as I saw promotions for the South Bend Civic's production. Not knowing the show well, I assumed it was only centered around the theme of growing up, and that gender would have no real driving force in the narrative. However I was very wrong, and the idea of a full-female cast proved a sharp and dynamic choice that helped form a heartfelt and enjoyable production.
Before the show started, all of the cast members walked around, interacting with the audience to play games and crack jokes. It was a brilliant tone setter for the production and eased very well into the quickly paced opening of the show. The set, designed by Jeff Barrick, lent itself perfectly to the storytelling and blocking by being just the right blend of detailed and simplistic.
The show tells the origin story of Peter Pan, played by Ash Young, two lost boys named Prentiss and Ted, and the heroine Molly, played by Mimi Panzica. They adventure to an island meeting pirates, tribes, and mermaids while there. As the lost boy, Young does an admirable job portraying a different take of the character than most are used to. This Peter is broken by the adults around him, and Young portrays the transformation of the hurt and melancholy child impressively, especially for this being her debut as a performer on stage.
Panzica does a great job portraying Molly, a young girl who seems to be the comic foil to all of her nonsensical encounters. She keeps the character multidimensional, making her feel very real and relatable in the midst of all the chaos around her. Young and Panzica work very well off of each other, helping build each other up character-wise and creating some of the most genuine parts of the show.
The whole cast seems to have a blast on stage, moving together as bombastic characters with varying styles of humor. It is a show that has a laugh for every person that walks in, and the actresses lean into every joke with all they can, building an inspiring powerhouse of a female cast. The social commentary on the differences between boys and girls as well as the children's conversations on leadership are strikingly more impactful and emphasized when told by female actresses. This is all the more inspiring because three of the cast members debuted in this show: Ash Young, Rachel Alford, and Lisa Knox. All three actresses are natural on stage and would not be able to be identified if they had not stated it in their bios.
My personal highlights of the show were any scenes involving Rachel Alford and Abbey Platt, who play Smee and Black Stache, which most would know as Captain Hook. Platt revels in the goofy villainy that she portrays onstage in a way that is particularly unique due to the fact that she is able to overact and be goofy while also never giving the impression that she is breaking character. All of her lines as Black Stache are delivered in a way that feel very natural for the character. Alford is giddy and hilarious as Smee, completely jovial as she comedically works off of Platt's 'serious' demeanor.
The blocking is unique in the way the cast forms different images in non-traditional ways such as creating doors, lifting characters through the sky, steering ships, etc. No matter what corner you look at, there is something happening. The space is used well and the immersive effect is neat as an audience member, but I can't help but feel the production would have worked better in the Civic's Wilson stage, which is bigger and would've helped the audience take in all the action better. This may have sacrificed the immersive aspect of the show, but I think it would have fared better for focus points.
All of the slightly off-putting moments of the show were just problems I had with the script. The dramatic moments and comedic moments are jumbled together awkwardly, there are pop-culture references that have a cringy sting at times, and there are only a couple of songs in the show which are mostly forgettable-though the live musicians were much appreciated and the Act 2 opening number received belly laughs and guffaws throughout the whole house. The creative team does the best they can with these issues by viewing the whole story as being told by a child. Lazarz states, "...I started viewing this play from the mind of a child," which was another sharp move and could be felt throughout the production.
Overall, the production is fantastic for what it is: an interesting combination of different styles of humor and storytelling that will give audiences walking in a feeling of personal childhood whimsy and glee. If you are looking for a good laugh and a production with charming performances, see the South Bend Civic Theatre's production of Peter and the Starcatcher.
PETER AND THE STARCATCHER continues performances through January 27th, 2020 at the South Bend Civic Theatre. Tickets are available at the South Bend Civic Theatre, online at www.sbct.org, or by calling (574)234-1112.
Photo Credits: Santiago Flores