Peter and the Starcatcher
Brooks Atkinson Theatre
This production is another happy example of regional theatre finding success on Broadway. In this case, the La Jolla Playhouse again shows its prowess. Broadway is rife with revivals of past productions, so it is always gratifying when an innovative local production gains traction on the Great White Way. In much the same way Wicked leveraged a storyline known almost universally, Peter and the Starcatcher likewise takes the prequel route, in this case cluing us into the backstory of Peter Pan. As with Wicked, Peter and the Starcatcher is based on a novel.
The style of the play is mostly old English music hall, with broad laughs, groaning double entendres and gaudy cross-dressing. The cast members play multiple roles as needed, with nary a weak link. Christian Borle essentially steals the show as Black Stache, the character we now love to hate as Captain Hook. Having been in the play in La Jolla, Borle has assayed the character well. In prior decades, Tim Curry would have been well cast in the role. Celia Keenan-Bolger plays Molly, the sole female in the cast. She is the eventual mother of Wendy, and is a great prototype for the strong teenage girl. She was also in prior productions of the musical, as was Teddy Bergman. The latter plays a castaway chef named Fighting Prawn, now chief of the fateful island on which the cast lands. It is his cooking timer which finds its way to the crocodile.
Back in the day, Roger Rees stunned me and audiences around the globe in his eponymous role as Nicholas Nickelby. Here, he directs with confidence. Making effective use of minimalist props, the cast shifts characters rapidly. The not-to-be-underestimated ‘stage movement’ by Steven Hoggett is a critical component of the play.
The stage set is sufficiently nautical to become the various decks and quarters of two ships, with the sea and an island between. The classic MacGuffin of mistaken contents (in this case two identical steamer trunks) forms the basis of the struggle between the pirates and the good guys. The eponymous lead is played by Adam Chandler-Berat, who reprises his role with confidence. As the character undergoing the most change (other than Stache’s over the top physical loss of a hand), Peter is rather meek through most of the play. Indeed, the play takes a challenging amount of time to get its bearings. With more than a touch of Monty Python-esque non sequiturs, it seems the production will never get on course. But by the midway point of the first act, things begin to mesh. The nude nudge wink wink asides to the audience shift from cloying to beguiling and the plot begins to gel. When Stache mutters that something has ‘about as much use as melody in a Philip Glass opera’ the audience groans and grins in equal measure. (Indeed, the Oscar soundbite from Sally Field ‘you really like me’ has an amazing shelf life, as I also heard it the night before at Godspell). Once onboard, so to speak, the audience sets sail with Peter and the cast.
With some suspended disbelief and with an appreciation of letting one’s imagination fill in (where other productions use harnesses), audiences will enjoy seeing this production fly.