Last Wednesday evening was the opening night of Peter and the Starcatchers, the stage adaption of the best selling novel by Ridley Pearson and Dave Barry. Although not strictly a book about Disney or Disney characters, Hyperion, part of Disney’s book division published the original.
Rick Elice, co-writer of the Tony Award-winning Jersey Boys and The Addams Family, along with actor-director-author Roger Rees, probably best known for his Tony Award-winning performance in The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, and Drama Desk and OBIE Award-winning director Alex Timbers, founder and artistic director of les Freres Corbusier and director of the highly-acclaimed production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, have created an imaginative new play based on the New York Times best-selling novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, Peter and the Starcatchers. In it, a company of 12 actors play some 50 characters on a journey to answer the century-old question: How did Peter become The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up?
As much as we would love to see it, the off-broadway production will run at the New York Theatre Workshop until April 3rd 2011 with no current plans for it to tour the US or internationally. So, the next best thing to do when you can’t see it is to read about it. Below, you can find a few reviews released over the past few days.
New York Times
All sinking sensations should feel this sensational. When the H.M.S. Neverland goes down in “Peter and the Starcatcher,” the blissful exercise in make-believe that opened on Wednesday night at the New York Theater Workshop, it’s the most enthralling shipwreck sinceJames Cameron sent the Titanic to her watery grave in the late 1990s (and picked up a crate of Oscars).
Mr. Cameron, of course, had digital magic, green screens, hundreds of extras and a $200 million budget at his disposal. The directors of “Peter and the Starcatcher,” Roger Rees and Alex Timbers, have a small stage, a ladder, some rope, thunder and lightning effects that might have been in use a century ago, and a cast of exactly a dozen. Yet for my money, going down with the Neverland is a heck of a lot more fun — and ultimately more convincing — than any big-screen equivalent.
Or any big-stage equivalent, for that matter. Adapted by Rick Elice from Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s popular children’s novel of 2004, “Peter and the Starcatcher” sustains a breathless air of adventure and a cocky confidence in its powers to enchant that elude most family oriented spectacles now on Broadway, including hits like “Wicked” and “Mary Poppins.” In relating the back story of how a sullen, skeptical orphan became the eternal boy known as Peter Pan, “Starcatcher” celebrates the leap of faith that occurs when we tell and believe improbable tales.
It seems apt, then, that leaping should be a major physical activity in this untiringly energetic production, which follows various heroic, evil and still-undecided characters on a tempest-tossed ocean voyage from England to a mysterious island. People leap off ship decks and through ocean waves and, in one especially memorable case, from a mountaintop into a shimmering lagoon (which, for the literal-minded, means jumping off a ladder and into a silver fireman’s net).
Such kinetic intensity is of a piece with Mr. Barry and Mr. Pearson’s original novel, a retrospective riff on J. M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan” stories that would not seem prime material for the stage. Merging the affable, straight-faced whimsy of Dave Barry, the author and former humor columnist, with the plot-spinning skills of Mr. Pearson, a suspense novelist, the children’s book is divided into short, fast, highly eventful chapters that might translate naturally into a fantasy action movie, preferably animated.
The stage script by Mr. Elice (“Jersey Boys,” “The Addams Family”) condenses and simplifies the novel’s multistranded plot while making more explicit reference to the Barrie prototype. It is also sillier and more sentimental, as the demands of showbiz warrant.
And don’t think for a second that this production isn’t showbiz at its most brazenly infectious. In telling a complicated story — it involves pirates, orphans and some transformative substance that comes from fallen stars — Mr. Rees and Mr. Timbers are endlessly and flamboyantly resourceful, transforming their cast into a single, multilimbed and remarkably efficient narrative organism.
Each director brings his own pertinent set of skills to the enterprise. Mr. Rees, you may recall, played the title character in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s fabled marathon adaptation of Charles Dickens’s “Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby” (seen on Broadway in 1981), which many theatergoers remember as the apotheosis of story theater. Like “Nickleby,” “Starcatcher” uses its cast members both to deliver a third-person narrative and to slip into different eccentric characters, who include salty sailors, helpful mermaids and a group of restless and possibly homicidal island natives.
Mr. Timbers is the hip theater director (if that’s not an oxymoron) responsible for, among other productions, the inspired, genre-scrambling, historical bio-musical “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.” And “Starcatcher,” like “Jackson,” walks a slippery tightrope between flippancy and highly charged sincerity without losing its balance. It also revels in the kind of antic verbal humor — tongue twisters, bad puns, fleetingly tossed-off anachronisms — that classically appeals to the arrested goofball in grown-ups as well as to children.
On the page the script for “Starcatcher” verges on preciousness on the one hand and snarkiness on the other. But on the stage it acquires the excited, self-delighted giddiness you associate with really good yarn spinners.
Donyale Werle’s dream box of a set is all sooty shadows in the first act and music-hall paradise sunshine in the second (with matching lighting by Jeff Croiter and witty, period-scrambling costumes by Paloma Young).
Against this backdrop the performers keep reconfiguring themselves into various shapes that serve to evoke (quite ravishingly) the different cabins of a ship, a hungry and dynamic ocean and (with the use of foliage-shaped panels) a jungle to get lost in. (Steven Hoggett is credited with overseeing “movement,” which in this show means a lot.)
The style of acting brings to mind the British fairy-tale Christmastime entertainments known as panto, early-20th-century vaudeville and the mildly naughty musical romps from the 1930s of Rodgers and Hart and Cole Porter. (Wayne Barker wrote the music, which includes a delicious Ziegfeld-Girl-style second-act opener for the saucy mermaids.)
The cast is, with one exception, male, and, with no exceptions, wonderful. Celia Keenan-Bolger takes on the womanly duties as Molly, a brainy and resourceful 13-year-old, embodying a proto-feminist willpower with stylish wit and ardor. She provides the sort-of love interest for the nameless, homeless boy who discovers his identity (and a name for the ages) in the course of the show. He is played by Adam Chanler-Berat (the likable stoner in “Next to Normal” on Broadway) as an every-adolescent sort of brooder that pretty much anyone who is, was or plans to be a teenager will identify with.
But it’s Christian Borle (late of “Angels in America”) who perhaps best captures the show’s knowing innocence and culture-mixing wizardry. Mr. Borle plays a pirate named Black Stache (who is poised to become that loathsome creature named Captain Hook) as a blend of Groucho Marx, Peter Allen and the ultimate Shakespearean ham.
It’s a performance that you might classify as over the top, but only in the sense that the entire production is. With grown-up theatrical savvy and a child’s wonder at what it can achieve, “Peter and the Starcatcher” floats right through the ceiling of the physical limits imposed by a three-dimensional stage. While there’s not a body harness in sight, like those used to hoist the title characters of “Mary Poppins” and “Spider-Man,” this show never stops flying.
PETER AND THE STARCATCHER
By Rick Elice, based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson; directed by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers; music by Wayne Barker; movement by Steven Hoggett; music direction by Marco Paguia; sets by Donyale Werle; costumes by Paloma Young; lighting by Jeff Croiter; sound by Darron L West; fight director, Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum; dramaturgy by Ken Cerniglia; production stage manager, Clifford Schwartz. Presented by the New York Theater Workshop, James C. Nicola, artistic director; William Russo, managing director. At the New York Theater Workshop, 79 East Fourth Street, East Village; (212) 279-4200; ticketcentral.com. Through April 3. Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes.
WITH: Teddy Bergman (Grempkin), Christian Borle (Black Stache), Arnie Burton (Mrs. Bumbrake), Adam Chanler-Berat (Boy), Matt D’Amico (Slank), Kevin Del Aguila (Smee), Brandon Dirden (Captain Scott), Carson Elrod (Prentiss), Greg Hildreth (Alf), Celia Keenan-Bolger (Molly), Karl Kenzler (Lord Aster) and David Rossmer (Ted).
Check out some photos from the New York Times coverage