Word has it that Peter And The Starcatcher was inspired by author Ridley Pearson’s daughter, Paige. The then five-year-old asked her dad questions he couldn’t answer about Peter Pan. How did Peter and Captain Hook meet, for example. As it happens, Pearson plays in a rock group called The Rock Bottom Remainders, which is peopled by several writers, including Dave Barry. Barry agreed that exploring the topic was an interesting premise for a book, and the rest, as they say, is literary history.
The collaboration, published in 2004, became a bestseller for children, and was followed by three sequels and another book on the same topic. In connection with Disney, the La Jolla Playhouse produced the play with music.
Perhaps this rather patchwork quilting together from different sources is why this production seems so uneven and disjointed. While it could benefit from more music, it’s not a musical. There are far too many risqué jokes, and one frightening scene of a boy being beaten, which led my companion to say it’s not a show to which she would bring her kids. It’s not an all-out gay camp show, although there are lots of gags in that vein, and the best scene is a hilarious number done in drag. This romp, performed as the opening number of Act Two, gave me hope for the rest of the show. Pirates and Lost Boys alike cavort with gold fans; their bras, made of found objects, were silly and creative. Unfortunately, this “mermaid” tone didn’t prevail.
The cast is predominantly good, with special props to Celia Keenan-Bolger as Molly. This is an actor who knows that comedy is best played when the character isn’t trying to be funny. Her deadpan is far more effective than the nudge-nudge-wink-wink attitude of several cast members. Adam Chanler-Berat brings a welcome sweetness to the boy who becomes Peter.
Christian Borle is showy and funny as Black Stache. I think he plays to the house a bit much, milking the laughs like a farmer with a dairy herd; but the audience is happy, and the laughs are loud. It’s easy to imagine him as a full-out Captain Hook. If nothing else, we see how under-utilized he’s been on the TV cheesefest known as Smash.
The ensemble of pirates and the Lost Boys form a jolly bunch, although “boys” is obviously a stretch. A lot of the acting is hammy, and wouldn’t be out of place in children’s theater, but that’s certainly the flavor of the piece as a whole. I’d appreciate someone telling me exactly what’s meant by the motto on the curtain, “Breaking the oldest of nature’s laws.”
There’s another story I’d like to add here. This one is about a theater critic caught up in Spring Theater Season. Like her colleagues, she was inundated with invitations to cover productions. Quite naturally, she connected with the press agents with whom she’s formed a working relationship over many years of writing about theater. She had difficulty scheduling in a show called Magic/Bird, presented by a production company which was new to her. And what was it about, anyway? Not the fairytale at first anticipated, but rather, a bromance about two basketball stars, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Sports; back of the line, for sure.
This turned out to be a mistake, because in fact, “Magic/Bird” was a much better theatrical presentation than most of what was shown on Broadway this year. It was a simple story, told with honesty and heart, and without blaring music, flashing lights, or straining for laughs. It should have been covered earlier, and recommended. In fact, it should have opened this summer, when tourists would have discovered it. You want to go to the theater, but your husband hates the idea? Hey, I’ve got just the show for you. Unfortunately, Magic/Bird didn’t survive to see the summer; it’s closed. And more’s the pity, in what’s turned out to be a notably lackluster season. Sorry.
Peter And The Starcatcher
Brooks Atkinson Theatre
256 West 47th Street
Michall Jeffers is an accomplished Cultural Journalist. She writes extensively, both in print and online. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary. She is a voting member of Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics Association, and International Association of Theatre Critics.