The road map to Neverland is clear: Head for the second star to the right, and go straight on till morning. But in telling the story of Peter Pan and his gang of Lost Boys, author J.M. Barrie was a bit fuzzier on several other matters.
For one, what of that crocodile, the one constantly on the trail of Captain Hook, with the alarm clock tick-tocking away in its scaly belly? How in the name of Tinkerbell did it get in there? And crucially, how did the Lost Boys get lost? Were they born lost or did they have lostness thrust upon them?
All will be answered in Drury Lane Oak Brook's "Peter and the Starcatcher." The music-infused play by Rick Elice ("Jersey Boys") is an adaptation of a novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, who wrote their book as a prequel to Barrie's "Peter and Wendy" (better known as "Peter Pan.") For director William Osetek, telling the backstory to Peter Pan and his adventures in Neverland provides a chance to indulge in a multi-layered world.
"What I love about this show is the amazing job it does making you feel like a child again," says Osetek. "It lets you get truly lost in a fantastic story, the way we do when we're kids. It's like going to Disneyland for the first time. No, it's even better than that."
The regional premiere of "Peter and the Starcatcher" marks something of a departure from the uusual Drury Lane aesthetic. When the lights come up on "Starcatcher," the stage will be virtually empty. In the show's meta-theatrical opening scene, the actors take the stage playing actors in a rough-and-tumble theater troupe. Giving further specifics would mean spoilers, so suffice to say that as the actors-playing-actors announce that they're about to embark on a wild feat of storytelling, the onstage world undergoes a dramatic transformation and "Starcatcher" literally hits the ground running.
"To start out, we're making the stage into as close to a black box as we can get it," Osetek says in reference to the small, bare spaces that define many an off-Loop production. "We want the audience to be able to build this story from the ground up. We want to celebrate the essence of theater — the imagination."
That's not to say imagination will trump production values in "Peter and the Starcatcher." That show will take audiences to worlds ranging from the bowels of a pirate ship to the starry skies above London. With the actors frequently breaking the fourth wall to address the audience directly, "Peter and the Starcatcher" swerves between fantasy and reality as it follows the fates of Boy and a scrappy young girl named Molly.
Prominent throughout is the luxuriously bewhiskered Black Stache, a pirate captain a with a knack for over-the-top comedic shenanigans. As Stache, Matt Mueller is charged with creating a character that radiates blackhearted villainy without being entirely blackhearted.
"Peter Pan can't exist as a hero without Stache as the villain," says Mueller. "Neither one of them can be who they are without the other. Stache is the bad guy because that's what he has to be, otherwise you'd have no good guys."
Teeming with heroes, villains and all those in between, "Peter and the Starcatcher" is both a terrific story and a celebration of theater itself, says Mueller.
"I love that this show is so reliant on the entire ensemble — everybody is working together,to create something from nothing and tell this fantastic story that just consumes you," says Mueller. "It goes from nothing to this incredible something before your eyes. It's like there's this big magic ball that gets thrown into the air, and you see the ensemble keeping it up there spinning."
"To me, this show is about a the resourcefulness of the human spirit," adds Osetek. "If you fully believe in your soul that you can achieve your dreams, then you are unstoppable. I think that's a wonderful message."