If “Wicked” examines the friendship shared by the Good Witch of the North and the Wicked Witch of the West before Elphaba’s fall from grace in the magical land of Oz, “Peter and the Starcatcher” recounts the story of an ordinary orphan, Boy (Jason Ralph), who is transformed into the mischievous “Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up”—and how his archenemy, Captain James Hook, developed his fear of blood after he loses his right hand!
We were glad we heeded our friend Leo Rialp’s suggestion to watch the Tony-winning production’s off-Broadway restaging at the New World Stages in New York last summer, because the play breaks new ground with the way it recalls and retells the origins of Peter Pan, Hook, Wendy, Tinkerbell and the Lost Boys.
Truth is, we’ve seen Roger Rees and Alex Timbers’ inventive storytelling style once before, and in a local production, at that—in New Voice’s 1997 staging of David Wood’s theatrical fable, “Save The Human,” directed by Monique Wilson—but, not in the sweeping, “big-budget” scale that characterizes “Starcatcher.” This is par for the course in an industry that constantly seeks innovative ways of telling a story.
The “Peter Pan” prequel takes place during the reign of Queen Victoria—whose soldiers must battle dopey pirates and agile orphans to get a hold of “Starstuff,” a substance that transforms ordinary mortals and objects into magical beings!
The play begins when the cast, led by Boy and Molly (Nicole Lowrance, the only female in the cast), enters the stage and encourages viewers to use their imagination as the story progresses—then, voila, the riotous adventure begins!
What sets the play apart is the way it utilizes its strong, 12-actor ensemble to portray more than 100 characters and turn them into human “set pieces”—like doors, staircases, cupboards and corridors—or lets them depict depth, height, gender and spatial relationships.
The pace is frantic and speedy, and the performances fun-filled and unapologetically over-the-top. You have to watch the play live to fully appreciate its sight gags, inventive staging, choreography and thespic ingenuity—because bootlegs and videos don’t do it justice. As they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating!
When Playbill asked codirector Alex Timbers—who also helmed the award-winning, off-Broadway musical about Imelda Marcos, “Here Lies Love”—what he found most challenging about staging “Peter and the Starcatcher,” he replied, “Without representational scenery, the production’s physical staging has to instantly ‘explain’ many different environments, indicate transitions, and stand in for what would be budget-busting action set pieces! But, I can’t imagine doing even a 10th of what the actors deliver onstage every night!”