CLAP YOUR HANDS IF YOU BELIEVE
A theatrical revolution is taking place at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, where a high-tech Broadway spectacle has been swapped for the homespun magic of a talented troupe of players and the audience’s engaged imaginations. Peter and the Starcatcher, a captivating prequel to Peter Pan, inspires childlike wonder. Suspend belief and suspend time. You’re in for a swashbuckling new adventure to Neverland.
Based on a popular series of children’s novels by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, Rick Elice’s play camps up the source material and relates how these classic storybook characters came into being: Peter Pan when he was a nameless orphan boy, Captain Hook before the hook, even the crocodile Mr. Grin before he tick-tocked. Elice’s script romps around with language, equally at home making fart jokes and knocking Ayn Rand: in other words, fun for the whole family.
The insufferably bright little starcatcher Molly Aster (an endearing Celia Keenan-Bolger) and her father Lord Aster (a staunch Rick Holmes) are entrusted to protect a powerful substance – starstuff – from falling into evil hands. Yet their mission to transport a trunk of starstuff to Rundoon is besieged by pirates: namely, Captain Black Stache (Matthew Saldivar).
Saldivar has some sassy boots to fill as the infamous mustachioed pirate; the charismatic Christian Borle won the 2012 Tony Award for Featured Actor in the role. Borle’s showstopping flamboyance made one crave his presence in every scene. Saldivar’s performance hits all the high notes, but constantly grounds the show in solid ensemble work. His performance is neither better nor worse; it simply brings a different – perhaps a more consistent and even – dynamic to the ensemble. This casting change actually enables a few other actors to shine anew, such as Hook’s dim-witted right hand man Smee (Kevin del Aguila), the stubborn orphan boy Peter (Adam Chanler-Berat), the amusingly alliterative Mrs. Bumbrake (Arnie Burton), and the hilariously stereotyped island native Fighting Prawn (Teddy Bergman).
Under the swift and farcical direction of Roger Rees and Alex Timbers, the company glows like starstuff itself. These adult actors tap into their inner child and play make-believe with a bit of rope, some vaudevillian song and dance, and infectious joy. Each actor has his turn in the spotlight as a character, but also partakes in the ensemble work of hoisting other actors into the air, popping their cheeks as sound effects, and employing their bodies as set pieces. In precise coordination with Jeff Croiter’s lighting and Darron L. West’s sound design, this strikingly synchronized ensemble elevates child’s play to a stunning work of art.
As Black Stache quips, “Pity the child who lives in a fact-based world.” Pity, as well, the audience member who won’t open his imagination to be transported to Neverland by this delightful new play. All it takes is a little starstuff.
photos by Joan Marcus
Peter and the Starcatcher
Brooks Atkinson Theatre in New York
scheduled to end on January 20, 2013
for tickets, visit http://www.peterandthestarcatcher.com/