Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Defying Gravity: "Peter and the Starcatcher" Flies Without Strings

Posted By on Wed, Jun 8, 2016 at 6:23 PM

click to enlarge The Cast of Peter and the Starcatcher
  • The Cast of Peter and the Starcatcher
What makes Peter and the Starcatcher such a joy to watch? That’s a softball question. It’s a lovely, giddy, ominous, often ridiculous piece of performance candy doubling down on live theater’s three most important things — actors, actors, and actors.

click to enlarge Molly & the Boy
  • Molly & the Boy
Not shading on my designers; respect to all y’all. Only saying — after scenic visionary Adolphe Appia — when it comes to show, man really is the measure of all things. At its best — even in the astonishing technological now — the theater’s not a place for fixed diversions. It’s the last safe place to imagine dangerous things collectively. And, like its beloved source material, Peter and the Starcatcher is the kind of story that helps hardened adults relinquish self-control and enter a twilight place called Neverland, where pirates lurk, mermaids frolic, fairies twinkle, and little boys never grow up.

I’m not going to say too much about Rick Elice’s sprawling — sometimes too sprawling — Peter Pan origin story, because it’s a show where the journey really is the destination. I’ll merely note that it begins with two tall ships sailing in different directions to a common destination. One ship carries a mysterious trunk, some British seamen, and a bunch of pirates. The other carries young boys destined for slavery, the daughter of a British seaman, an identically mysterious trunk, and a passel of seagoing scoundrels. It ends at the beginning of a legend we already know, about the immortal Pan locked in his forever battle with a wicked, one-handed brigand. Between times there’s swashbuckling, glib banter, vaudeville routines, a song or two, and just enough gut-honest acting to keep things real.

The not-so-secret weapon in this latest production is musical theater powerhouse David Foster, who’s been sidelined for some time due to illness.

Well, he’s not sidelined anymore, and he’s making up for temps perdu.

click to enlarge Black Stache & the Boy
  • Black Stache & the Boy
Foster plays Black Stache, a dark hearted pirate who’ll cut you, boo, and not bat an eye if he do. Even in the context of a deliberate ensemble he’s a capital-S-T-A-R, and bigger than Norma Desmond.

Maggie Robinson is Molly the titular starcatcher. She's a precocious kid and tough little mother-figure to a trio of lost boys played to the grubby hilt by Dane Van Brocklin, Jason Gerhard, and Isaac Middleton. This team’s responsible for some of the show’s tenderest moments, but there’s not a slouch on director Bob Hetherington’s creative team. Bill Andrews, Michael Gravois, Nathan McHenry, Ryan Kathman, Stuart Heyman, Greg Szatkowski and Jared Graham round out an uncommonly well-rounded cast.

Hetherington gets good work from his designers too. Erik Diaz, Zo Haynes, and Caleb Blackwell have conspired to create a comfortably-scaled environment for actors to build worlds inside of worlds.

Am I gushing? I think I'm gushing. But I can say critical things too like how the script’s a little too loose and referential, and the stage sometimes erupts into an overly-frenetic jumble of confusing activity. But in a fun fast-moving play, those moments zip right on by.

Hang the moon from a string and you’ll wind up hanging the sun, and all the planets too. Imagine the moon and you can cram the universe into the modest auditorium at Circuit Playhouse. That’s exactly what Peter and the Starcatcher does, and with no small amount of panache. 

click to enlarge To be or not to be... pirates?
  • To be or not to be... pirates?
Correction: This review erroneously listed Daniel Muller as scenic designer per POTS preview materials. It has been corrected to read Erik Diaz. 

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