BWW Review: PETER AND THE STARCATCHER A Beloved Story Turned On Its Head At Aeon Life Theater At Aeon Life Theater
We all know the beloved classic story written by J. M Barrie that had us all wishing we could never grow up, and reaching to find a way, "second star to the right, and straight on till morning." What if however, there was a different side to the story? A story stripped of all the Disney magic and theatrics and left with a guttural, heartbreaking tale, of love, loss, and the unique idea that even when you don't want to grow up...we all have a way of doing so in the end.
Aeon Life Theater most recently having done She Loves Me, tackles the re-imagined tale of "Peter Pan" and the idea that 'Star-Stuff' can make you do magical things. With the help of two orphan boys Peter re-imagined in this world simply as "Boy" befriends a Starcatcher by the name of Molly Aster. Simply titled Peter and the Starcatcher: the Neverland you never knew this play written by Rick Elice with music by Wayne Barker shows a different side of the beloved "boy who would never grow up."
"Boy" played masterfully well by the talented Jose Rodriguez was a sight to watch. He was tender at moments, and whiny the next and brave all wrapped into one. Later on when he receives his Namesake he finally realizes what it means to have a "Home." Jose is a young talent who was last seen in Aeon's production of She Loves Me, and it's nice to see his face at the head of the pack with this one. His smile and facial expressions full of wonder, and wanting to find a home makes his turn as "Peter Pan" a memorable tour-de force and perfect casting, and one talent I will sure to be watching out for what he does next.
The Starcatcher or Molly Aster is a brave but often silly affirmation of that friend we've always wanted. She pushes Peter to the brink of what he can do, and even shows that love can come from the most unexpected places. Played exceptionally well by Lisa Malloy her talent radiates through every moment she is on stage. Among the 13 actors all taking on massive responsibility with this show, 6 actors doubled several other characters to bring this brave re-imaging to life. There were several standouts amongst the company. One being the ever funny Nic Harrington in his turn as The Black Stache, he truly steals the show every time his character is on -stage and made the audience laugh out loud with his antics. With a two act show running just over two-hours this is a fast paced tour-de force and often a more difficult work of theatre. This is considered a play with music, not a musical, though there is singing. The singing doesn't advance the plot, but rather lends itself to the story; it's an interesting idea...though in all honesty I could've seen the original production maybe try instrumental music throughout, because sometimes the music overlaps the dialogue making it hard to understand what is being said.
Like I said Peter and the Starcatcher is often seen as a difficult piece to put on, and often times can be a hard sell. How do you take something so beloved by everyone and turn it on its head; presenting a side of the story not everyone knows? Even though the production successfully did what it needed, there are some things to consider that made me scratch my head a bit. Act 1 got off to a rocky start, but as the show progressed it was an enjoyable experience. Upon initial entrance into the room I noticed a small amount of chairs give or take 50 or so. I would expand the amount of chairs in order to put more bodies in the space. Also mics in a small space with larger cast...may not be the best suited option. For future ventures I would consider piping and draping the outer extremity of the space this helps keep the sound confined. In such a tall room there were moments where the volume echoed so loud in the first act I was questioning that option. The acoustics in the Italian Club do not lend well to the frequency of 13 live mics and often times I found the mics a hindrance. Once the curtain opened and the set was revealed, I wondered the use of the pipe and drape behind the set. Could it have been pushed back more to allow more room for the actors to move? With a larger cast it made it seem awkward with very Little Room to move. I would push the pipe and drape upstage more creating more space, or just nix it entirely. The set design worked in essence that we see a ship, although not always as functional as one might like I commend the efforts.
I don't know for certain if it was a director choice or a script choice to use the tiny boats and the stuffed cat. The stuffed cat posed more of a problem here for me, in essence that it was almost like re-watching the "baby sequence" in American Sniper, and it just fell flat for me. The gummi worms in the bucket in hind sight might have been well executed with a little bit of food coloring... the neon worms didn't work and was slightly distracting for the moment. Admist the aforementioned issues, there were the usual issues with costume pieces falling off, or an actor fidgeting to get ready such as the Teacher character before her reveal in act two, but often times the in the moment zaniness is what lends the "charm" to live-theatre. Costumes for the orphans made sense, the rags and the ship's crew made sense. However when costuming a show, the trick is to make sure all the cast is in clothing of proper fit. There was an actor whose' vest was too short, and they had on short socks. Details are key in creating a world in which the characters reside, and if an audience is to be invested for two hours, the details are sight specific, as much as the emotional investment. The only other pitfall for me was the sequences with the water. I don't know if a bigger piece of fabric could have been used, but from where I was sitting you could see all that was going on behind and under, it just pulled me out of the moment and didn't serve as a meaningful sequence for me. Water is often times a hard nut to crack in live-theatre, but execution is key here.
Amirah Mahmood does a wonderful job navigating this journey, and drives a tight ship. Just a few key things I would personally look at on the technical side, but other than that Peter and the Starcatcher lends itself to be a fine ensemble piece, and a joy to be had by the audience. Supported by a headstrong ensemble/company Jose Rodriguez and Lisa Malloy captained the ship through its maiden voyage, and for that I say Brava. With funny moments, tender moments, and moments that just down right made me scratch my head; this re-imaging of the Peter Pan we all know and love was a brave and noble effort, and an enjoyable experience to be had by all. Peter and the Starcatcher continues this weekend through Sunday at the Italian Club in Ybor City, with performances tonight at 8pm, Saturday at 6pm, and Sunday at 2pm. Tickets for this uncharted and brave world can be purchased by visiting aeonlifetheater.ticketspice.com.
Photo Credit: Aeon Life Theater