Peter and the Starcatcher, a stage adaptation by Rick Elice based on Dave Barry’s children’s novel, tells the origin story behind the boy that wouldn’t grow up: Peter Pan. All the familiar elements are there, not necessarily recognizable at first, but that’s half the fun with this play that will entertain members of the entire family.
This particular production boasts strong performances across the board. Black Stache, (who is revealed to be a much more recognizable character as the show progresses) played by Steven P. Holty, hams it up as the Big Bad Villain who our characters are always trying to escape. I initially thought Holty’s performance would spend too much time winking to the audience, forcing them to find him funny as opposed to genuinely finding the humor, but he thankfully found a nice balance between a realistic portrayal and a clownish persona. He and Aaron Mealey as Smee had a lot of strong moments as a comedic duo, eliciting laughs from the audience on their entrance, before they even said any lines!
There was also very nice chemistry between the younger characters; particularly Molly (Maddy Paxson) and Boy (Samuel Nowak). I usually cringe at the thought of older actors playing much younger onstage, both characters are 13, but Paxson and Nowack each found a nice balance portraying youthful characters who spend the play finding their way into adulthood. Kudos also to Fletcher J. Novack and Erik Nowicki, playing Boy’s companions Ted and Prentiss, for their group chemistry and comic timing.
Those listed above, as well as the rest of the twelve person cast, play a huge amount of characters, I lost count after the first dozen or so, but they all manage to flesh them out with subtle changes in dialect and physicality. Andy Harrington, as Grempkin/Fighting Prawn and others, was a particular standout, playing two of those characters in almost back to back scenes! I must also mention the performance of Zach Whitt as Mrs. Bumbrake. Playing the only older female character, Whitt managed to create a very funny performance without falling into feminine stereotypes.
While the performances were strong, I had a few issues with the design choices in this production. Following in the footsteps of the original Broadway production, the designers of the set and props used “found objects”, random things that could be found anywhere brought onstage to create the world of the ships the characters are traveling on in act one or the island they explore in act two. My issue came particularly in act two, when the characters are shipwrecked and the island is mostly represented by piles of junk along the back of the stage. We are reminded where we are several times in the dialogue, but having some of those found objects create more of a location would have helped set the scene more. This design choice also extended from set into props, with things like mops and brooms being used as spears, which was more successful. However, a few key props, such as a cat that is referenced several times especially in a very important scene aboard one of the ships, was mimed by the actors who “held” it. Another important animal is represented by a shadow puppet instead of being created onstage by the actors. Missed opportunities for what could have been some very interesting puppetry and stagecraft.
Costume design by Courtney Anderson Brown took the simplicity approach of the rest of the production and created really nice base looks for each actor. Smaller pieces were added for each character the actor played, allowing for fast transitions throughout the show. Sound design by Justin Hodge was tricky. There were a lot of sound effects throughout the production as well as a few sung moments with the cast. Sometimes the music would overwhelm the actors and there were several moments where volume was an issue. Lighting design by Paul Collins worked very well in the small playing space, creating new locations whether practical or fantastical. Some of the lighting shifts were a bit slow, however, making some of the transitions drag or not be completely finished before the actors started the next scene. I’m not sure if this was a design issue or an issue of calling the cues themselves, but tightening up those transitions would allow the scenes to flow at a brisker pace.
One particularly important aspect of this production is the music. It would be considered more a play with music instead of a full fledged musical, so the songs that are sung only come up three or four times within the show and need to be showstoppers. Piano accompanist Sara Taylor and percussionist Aurora Vanston provide a solid underscoring throughout the scenes, and a few of the songs work very well in commenting on the action of plot. There were a few hiccups with the music, some forgotten lyrics and a few sour notes, particularly at the start of act two, but there was a strong effort overall within the cast in making these songs the standout moments.
Overall, Peter and the Starcatcher is a fun night of family entertainment, utilizing simple theatrical magic that we rarely see onstage anymore. It is definitely worth the price of admission to escape into a world of imagination for a few hours!
Peter and the Starcatcher runs for three weekends at Midland Center for the Arts; for ticket information please visit their website or call the box office at (989) 631-8250.