– The award-winning Broadway comedy “Peter and the Starcatcher” made its St. Louis debut at the Peabody Opera House this weekend, March 7-9.PHOTO: The Peter and the Starcatcher Tour Company; Photo by Terry Shapiro ©
By Cate Marquis, A&E Editor for The Current
The award-winning Broadway show “Peter and the Starcatcher” made its St. Louis debut at the Peabody Opera House this weekend, March 7-9. “Peter and the Starcatcher” is a sort of prequel to Peter Pan, but a goofy, creative and highly entertaining imagining of how Peter Pan and all his world came to be.
The Broadway production is a kind of cross between imaginative child’s play, Gilbert and Sullivan, and Monty Python, based on the bestselling book “Peter and the Starcatchers” by humorist Dave Barry and St. Louis-based thriller writer Ridley Pearson.
One weekend is a short run and one cannot help but hope this very funny delight will return soon for a much longer one. This hilarious tale of pirates and high-seas Victorian-era British adventure earned a record 9 Tony nomination and won five Tonys.
“Peter and the Starcatcher” is billed as “the grown-ups prequel to Peter Pan” but there is plenty for kids in this production.
This comic delight is the best kind of family entertainment, the type that offers humor for both the grown-ups and the kids. There are fart jokes but also tongue-in-cheek adult humor that will have parents guffawing while the line goes sailing over little ones’ heads. It is also the best kind of musical, in that it has humorous, hummable tunes but just a sprinkling of them instead of holding up the story with a whole evening of elaborate song and dance production numbers.
The Peabody was packed for Friday night’s performance, with many in the audience (and even ushers) sporting drawn-on handlebar mustaches, in honor of the story’s pirate villain Black Stache.
On stage, there was a fancy old-fashioned golden proscenium arch draped with red velvet curtains – but both the arch and the curtain looked the worse for wear, shabby and frayed. The play begins with an adult cast dressed as raggedy turn-of-the-nineteenth century children who appear to be backstage in a run-down theater. The one girl and eleven boys talk about their childhood dreams and how they fade as they grow up. Suddenly, the cast begins to act out a tale of high adventure, using improvised sets and props and imaginative costumes, evoking the way children transform objects at hand or a discarded cardboard box into a hat or a ship’s cabin, or a toy boat into a substitute for the real thing.
Their tale is set in 1886, a high-seas adventure with a British lord father, his bright young daughter, three orphan boys and a secret mission from Queen Victoria to deliver a valuable treasure chest to an island kingdom. Thirteen-year-old Molly (Megan Stern) is the epitome of the Victorian heroine – spunky,confident and eager to please her recently-knighted father Lord Aster (Nathan Hosner). Lord Aster is the classic British literary adventurer who is also a doting single father.
But for this mission, father and daughter must take separate ships. Lord Aster boards the faster ship Wasp with the secret cargo of valuable but mysterious “starstuff,” while Molly and her nanny Mrs Bumbrake (Benjamin Schrader, in an apron and what appears to be flower pot on his head) are on the slower, safer merchant ship Neverland.
Aboard the Neverland are three orphaned boys – Prentiss (Carl Howell), Ted (Edward Tournier) and Boy (Joey deBettencourt), who has been an orphan so long he’s forgotten his name – as well as scheming Captain Slank (Jimonn Cole), a chubby sailor named Alf (Harter Clingman) who takes a shine to the nanny and assorted characters.
Meanwhile Molly’s father and his brave assistant Captain Scott (Ian Michael Stuart) are confronted by pirates, lead by the colorful, mispronouncing villain Black Stache (John Sanders) (who sports a big black greasepaint handlebar mustache) and his first mate Smee (Luke Smith)
Molly and her father speak to each other in code – the language of the dodo bird – to avoid revealing their secret mission, a Pythonesque bit of absurdity. A rope serves as a confided space of the ship’s cabin. The cast play various supporting characters, engage in endless bits of comic business and transform ordinary objects backstage into a remarkable stream of sets and props for the sea-going story. Two guys with a waving rope serve as high seas, shadows on a screen serve as a flying cat, a flapping yellow rubber glove becomes a flying bird. The improvised sets, props and costumes slowly give way to the appearance of more conventional theatrical costumes and sets as we become absorbed in this high seas adventure. The concept is remarkably clever but what really grabs the audience, kid and adult alike, is how funny and energetic it all is.
After intermission, the stage is transformed into an island world, with all vestiges of the theatrical backstage vanishing and being replaced by sets of blue and green. Once on the island, things get more magical – and sometimes more absurd.
The audience is serenaded by a bunch of “fish” who have been transformed into mermaids – the mostly-male cast transformed by some cloth, sparkly fans for tails and kitchen tools attached to their chests for breasts (the vegetable steamers are the best).
On this tropical island, the ship-wrecked boys try to evade the pirates but encounter an unfriendly native tribe led by Fighting Prawn (Lee Zarrett) whose native language seems to consist of the names of Italian foods (“Cannoles, pasta, antipasta,” he orders his followers), as the story steamrolls to its magical, inventive conclusion.
The play avoids giving away the ending by cleverly disguising who will become who in this “origin tale.” But the real fun it just getting there, by means of every comic device possible. The sillier the better here – as guys camp it up in drag, no pun or double-entrendre is unspoken, no spoof of Victorian plotting left unexploited, no laugh or joke missed.
The result is pure fun and great entertainment, the kind of fun romp families can enjoy again and again, leading one to wish that “Peter and the Starcatcher” flies back soon.
© The Current 2014