by Stephen Best
The highflying and slapstick comedy, playwright Rick Elice’s Peter and the Starcatcher has made its debut at the Drury Lane Theatre. This affable and harmless piece of family fare entertainment provides many giggles as we glimpse into the word where an orphan boy grew to be Peter Pan and a shifty pirate became Captain Hook. This prequel of the Peter Pan story, directed by William Osetek and starring a troupe of twelve diligent players, doesn’t scratch the surface into the depths of the characters they portray, they revel upon the surface, which makes up the meat of this story. Starcatcher is superficial by design, supercilious fun that never digs too deeply in the dark. A Hook for the hipster generation, as it were.
The story centers around a Boy (winning charmer Caleb Donahoe) one of a trio of orphans who were sold into slavery on a pirate ship. Enter Molly (Emma Rosenthal) the strong willed, plucky daughter of a Ship’s Captain, who more then holds her own as she rescues this rag tag team of lads, some lost, some not. These courageous kids engender their own level of self-reliance as they battle against a pirate called Black Stache (Matt Mueller), whose magic marker drawn on “face foliage” is meant to strike terror in the hearts of those who cross him, but in reality, brings out snickers from the audience. Mueller’s triumphant, over the top portrayal of Stache, preening center stage, proves he has never meet a set he couldn’t chew through with the grace of a chainsaw. With his trusty sidekick Smee (Jeff Dumas) and a team of pirates by his side, it is a race against time to find the treasure chest of “starstuff” the magical paragon that helps Pan to fly, Molly to reunite with her father, and the Lost Boys to find their way home.
The quips and puns in the very modern telling of a classic tale will either make the show endearing or insufferable, depending on your palate. For those seeking life lessons, you will find a few peppered in the playtime. With lines including “the more you claim leadership, the more it alludes you” and “to have faith is to have wings” the “genuine heroic sacrifice” will pull at your heartstrings. On the flip side, with nods to one hit wonder, pop star Kelis “Milkshake” song “my milkshake brings all the boys to the yard”, Madonna’s “Vogue” and a dormant volcano called Mount Jalapeno (yes, inserted fart jokes are here too) the pop culture references will test the patience of anyone over 30. And when Black Stache loses his hand (thankfully not drawn out like in the Broadway production) he puns through the pain. “You single handedly rendered me single handed” and “you are the wind beneath my clipped wing.”
Rhett Guter’s light-of-foot choreography is a winner, especially in the act two, ten dancing mermaids number. Starcatcher is not a musical, more like a play with music and Guter’s makes the most with what he has. Sally Dolembo’s costume design is also a delight. Her take on Molly’s attire, a subtle nod to the sadly missing Tinkerbell, pardon the pun, captivatingly soars. The lighting design from Diana Ferry Williams also impressed, taking the audience from night to day, ship to island. The low budget crocodile attack in act two was resourcefully inventive. Also of note in this production, featured in the dual role of Mrs. Keating and the Mermaid Queen, John Keating steals the show every time he steps on the stage. Two profoundly gifted hams, doing what they do best. It was unfortunate Mueller and Keating didn’t have scenes directly opposite one another to determine the real focus-pulling victor.
Played like an extended Saturday Night Live skit, Peter and the Starcatcher is whimsical, harmless, fanciful fun. Fusing the themes of lost innocence with bandied togetherness, then wrapped in a never ending litany of puns and sight gags, Starcatcher is an appealing entry into a busy fall theater season.