Over the weekend I attended a play that I’ve actually wanted to see for over a year now. Peter and the Starcatcher started out at New York Theatre Workshop, transferred to Broadway (where it won five Tony Awards), and is now back off-Broadway at New World Stages.
There are so many things that I could say about this play that is called “the adult prequel to Peter Pan.” Based on a novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, the play is written by Rick Elice and directed by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers. While not a musical, and not considered choreography, “movement” is by Steven Hoggett. I must say that the movement is beautifully choreographed. I can’t help but admire Hoggett’s work. Every piece I’ve seen has been spectacular.
Quite possibly the most noticeable thing when you see the show is the set. Scenic design was done by Donyale Werle. To put it simply, it’s magnificently simple. Everything on the stage that is part of the set, all of the props, and even the items used in the proscenium around the stage are “found” items. I was lucky enough to be in the first row, so I had a great view of the proscenium. At first glance, it’s gold and ornate. At second glance, it’s covered in things like shovels, action figures, rope, bottle caps, wine corks, and other items. They’ve been placed on the frame to make a beautiful pattern and then covered in gold.
When you look on the stage there are crates, a couple of trunks, and some very basic set pieces that appear to be nothing more than something that a group of children (though very talented, creative children) would make. The props are things you’d see in a back yard presentation of a neighborhood play. Broomsticks and toilet plungers become swords. Rope goes from showing a room’s walls to becoming the rough and tumble ocean waves.
Throughout the show you feel like you are watching a return to your childhood, which is something that Peter Pan really defines, isn’t it? Peter Pan himself stands for perpetual childhood. His Lost Boys always had found items that they used. Why would this play be any different that the childhood cartoon and book we’ve come to know and love?
In this prequel to Peter Pan, we meet young Molly and her father Lord Aster. Motherless, Molly has grown to be quite the tomboy and her father’s right hand man…in training. When Molly can’t accompany Lord Aster on his journeys, she has Mrs. Bumbrake, her nanny, to care for her. Nicole Lowrance plays Molly with childlike exuberance and joy. The kind that makes you want to be a little girl again.
Mrs. Bumbrake is played by Jon Patrick Walker. Yes. You read that correctly. Mrs. Bumbrake is played, quite hilariously, by a guy. Walker over acts every action of his character, but that’s what makes him so darn funny. I spent half the time he was on stage watching his facial expressions and actions. At times, he was a scene stealer. I loved him.
When Lord Aster is sent on a mission for the Queen, we begin to meet many of the characters that will become those we know in the classic story. Two ships, two crews, two sets of pirates. One with Lord Aster and his crew, the other with the ship that Molly has been sent on with Mrs. Bumbrake.
We also meet the pirate Black Stache. Known for his famous black “stache,” Black Stache is the resident villain that wants to find his hero. Played by Rick Holmes, Stache spends most of the play being clumsy and trying to convince people that he’s evil. More specifically, he meets Boy, and spends quite a bit of his time trying to convince Boy that he needs to be the hero to Stache’s villain.
Boy and his friends Prentiss and Ted are orphans who are sold off to pirates. Jason Ralph plays the mistrusting, withdrawn Boy well. Boy trusts no one because of his rough childhood, but most specifically, he really doesn’t trust grown-ups. We see Boy learn to trust Molly, and to a very small degree, trust others. But while Prentiss and Ted are fighting about which of them is the real leader, Boy becomes their leader.
I wish I could convey the entire story to you in this post, but it might ruin too much of the magic of the show. I will say this… There are treasure chests, secrets, switch-a-roos, cannibals, volcanos, mermaids, magic, flying cats, sinking ships, giant reptiles, sword fights, and bedtimes stories. So much happens as we see Molly teach Boy, Prentiss and Ted what it’s like to have a real childhood, and as we see Boy turn into the leader who eventually ends up with his name…. Peter Pan.
This show is truly a simple show. Simple, beautiful and powerful. Seeing Peter and the Starcatcher is like taking a journey with the actors, and the audience. A journey back to a time when things were simpler. A journey back to your childhood. You laugh. A lot. You find yourself remembering how much fun it was to put on that play with your cousins in the living room of your grandparents’ house. And if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself shedding a tear or two (or more) toward the end of the show and Molly grows up and Boy becomes Peter Pan.