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A truly ensemble cast recreates the making of Peter Pan’s Neverland in the music-filled play Peter and the Starcatcher, presented by North Carolina Theatre and Broadway Series South. The play, taken from the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, is by Rick Elise, with music by Wayne Barker. Both novel and play go to great lengths to create the situation in which Neverland comes to life on the Island of Mollusks and the Mermaid Grotto.
The play uses a cast of twelve to recreate over a hundred different characters onstage. The principals are The Boy (Brian Welnicki), his two pals Ted (Nick Lehan) and Prentiss (James Crichton), and Molly (Aisling Halpin). Molly is the daughter of an aristocrat, Lord Aster (Andy Ingalls), who is taking her to Rangoon on a diplomatic mission. This mission is at the behest of the Queen (Victoria) and involves the journey of two ships from England to Rangoon in 1885.
Lord Astor is to travel to Rangoon on a ship named The Wasp, which is deemed to be extremely fleet. His daughter, Molly, is to travel the same route on a much slower ship, The Neverland, and she is to take charge of a locked trunk that travels with her. Each ship has an identical trunk, and in one of them is a great treasure. In the other is sand. News of these trunks has reached the ears of the pirate Black Stache (Joe Beuerlein). In order to obtain this great treasure for himself, Black Stache and his crew take over The Wasp, imprison Lord Astor, and take his trunk. To the pirates’ dismay, it is the one filled with sand. They decide to overtake The Neverland, and get that chest, since it is now known to be the one that contains the treasure.
There are a couple of hitches to this plan: First of all, Molly is a Starcatcher. This mission is her first, and she is extremely serious about getting her charge to its destination. Second is the fact that there are three orphans traveling along with her on The Neverland, being transported to Rangoon as slaves to the king. These three boys are, of course, Peter and his friends, and they and Molly must battle the pirates for the treasure. That treasure, we learn slowly, is stardust, which has magical powers. Molly’s mission is to destroy the dust before it falls into the wrong hands, because if something (or someone) is sprinkled with it, then they earn the right to be whatever their strongest wish is. Black Stache and his crew cause The Neverland to be shipwrecked on a desert island, and the trunk, now in possession of the boys and Molly, must be kept from the pirates at all costs.
Sounds sinister. In actuality, nothing could be further from the truth. The entirety of the show is done with tongue firmly in cheek, and the madcap escapades of this crew are performed with no other purpose than to tickle our funny bones. While Molly’s mission is deadly serious, the lunacy of the pirates is exactly that. Black Stache and his right-hand man, Smee (Andrew Sklar), are completely inept, and have no real chance of defeating these earnest young protagonists.
The music that accompanies this show is not so much front and center; it is more of a backdrop to the play than a principal in it. There are no solos; most all of the music is choral, and performed by the cast en masse. The most outrageous of these choruses is “The Mermaid Song,” wherin all of the cast (save Peter) are turned into mermaids by the stardust. Their antics open Act II and set the stage for the creation of Neverland and Peter’s sanctuary. These songs are accompanied by only two instruments, keyboard and drums, as performed by musical director Max Grossman and drummer Jeremy Lowe.
Not all in the play runs smoothly. There are points when the action becomes frenzied, accompanied by a tremendous amount of noise. While that is one of the points that makes these tales for children exciting, it does nothing at all for the dialogue, which becomes muddled and impossible to understand. “The Mermaid Song” is the only one in which the lyrics are decipherable; the others are great fun but unclear. This is another reason the music seems secondary to the play.
There also comes a point in Act II when Black Stache (who we all know now is to become Captain Hook) loses his hand when he slams the trunk lid down on it. In order to make this as funny a moment as possible, Stache must react in a comedic fashion; he did so with a series of Oh–My-Gods which went on for fully five minutes. It took our minds off his hand and, sadly, it took our minds off of everything until his rantings were through. In particular, this specific part of the show went on far too long. It stopped being funny after about the first two minutes. Director Roger Rees might consider toning it down a touch.
The work, however, has much to recommend it. The ensemble cast worked well and athletically together, creating various scenes with a minimal amount of scenery and great deal of creative use of such items as rope and flashlights. Energy was high and infectious, and we barreled along full speed ahead toward the ultimate climax. Halpin and Welnicki were first rate. Halpin (the only female in this cast) was sweet and commanding at the same time, and Welmicki had just the right touch of whimsy and nerve. Beuerlein was both a villain and Captain of the Lunacy; his antics were strictly comical even when at his most menacing. The ensemble cast created a multitude of characters onstage, much to our delight, and enthusiasm was the catchword of the evening. The comic genius of Dave Barry was most evident; the asides and insinuations were hilarious.
This touring production of Peter and the Starcatcher is exactly what is should be, a fairytale for the children. The kids are sure to enjoy it, and if one or two aspects of the show are overlooked, then most adults will enjoy it, too. The laughter was infectious and widespread, props and costumes were delightful (especially the mermaids’ dressings), and everyone in the cast did a topnotch job of creating a handful of characters with very little except the imagination. Kudos to an ensemble that kept every scene clean and sharp. While it is unclear whether Peter and the Starcatcher will take a place beside Peter Pan, it is a fun evening and sure to please the young ones.
Peter and the Starcatcher continues through Sunday, March 15. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.