Peter and the Starcatcher begins exactly where it needs to begin—a world that bears minimal semblance to Peter Pan. Eleven actors (10 males and one female) stand at the front of a stage made of thick wood planks and dive headfirst into their well-rehearsed exchanges of dialogue and movements. They drive through the exposition at breakneck speed, explaining that two ships are leaving port from London at the same time carrying identical wood crates. The wood crates are switched, with the more important crate landing on the slower ship called The Neverland, and thus emerges the first hint of Peter Pan.
In the first act, not a second passes in silence. Actors zoom through dialogue and portray numerous characters (not to mention inanimate objects) with a clarity that bears credit for director William Osetek. The dialogue in isolation is often confusing, but the actors quickly train their audience to listen with their eyes rather than their ears, for the visuals tell the story.
Most of the connections to Peter Pan flow through stardust, a magical powder that allows those who touch it to “become whatever they want to be”… for better or worse. The quest to destroy this stardust in a giant volcano creatively initiates the epic conflict between Peter Pan and Captain Hook, although the identity of these two characters is a mystery for much of the show.
Peter and the Starcatcher, though not a musical, is at its best during the four or five musical numbers. All have catchy melodies with the most outstanding being the well-placed opener of the second act: “Stardust Made a Mermaid Out of Me.” The make-shift mermaid costumes and choreography lead to many of the best comedic moments of the play.
Among the most notable performances are Molly (Emma Rosenthal), a precocious 13-year-old with the desire to become a hero; Mrs. Bumbrake (John Keating), Molly’s nanny played with scene-stealing effeminacy; and Black Stache (Matt Mueller), the pirate who seems to thirst for monologues as much as for riches.
In truth, all 11 actors provide stellar performances bringing their multiple characters to the forefront of this over-crowded show… but all of those commendable performances are at the heart of the play’s great weakness. With so many characters, so many creative visuals, so many quick puns, Peter and the Starcatchers lacks any singular characters that earn emotional attachment. The audience is not given a protagonist to root for and an antagonist to root against. Even Hook emerges not as a “villain we love to hate” but as a hero eagerly embracing his future as a comedic foil.
With such limited attachment to characters, the suspense of the second act is more based on catching the next pun than on worrying about the futures of any individual characters. Sadly, the inevitable pacing slow-down of the second act becomes tiresome as we learn the resolutions for too many characters who were all spread too thin.
This is a top-notch production of a show that creates visual effects for audiences of all ages, but the script doesn’t quite deliver on its promise to be the prequel of a children’s story that contains every component needed for adults.