Monday, January 16, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Peter And The Starcatcher at the Smithtown Center For The Performing Arts by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Peter And The Starcatcher at the Smithtown Center For The Performing Arts was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Peter And The Starcatcher
Based on the Novel by Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson
Adapted for the Stage by Rick Elice
Music by Wayne Barker
Directed by Kenneth J. Washington
Smithtown Center For The Performing Arts
2 East Main Street
Smithtown, New York 11787
Reviewed 1/14/17

Peter And The Starcatcher is an outrageous, fantastical, anachronistic play based on a novel of the same name written by Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson, which provides a slightly altered version of the back story of Peter Pan than is set forth in J.M. Barrie's Peter & Wendy and The Little White Bird. The book was adapted for the stage by Rick Elice and what little music there is was written by Wayne Barker. The show premiered on February 13, 2009 at the La Jolla Playhouse (a not-for-profit, professional theater on the campus of the University of California, San Diego) and ran through March 8, 2009. The play opened Off-Broadway at New York Theatre Workshop beginning performances on February 18, 2011 and closing on April 24, 2011. Peter And The Starcatcher officially opened on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on April 15, 2012, closing on January 20, 2013 after 18 previews and 319 regular performances. It then re-opened Off-Broadway at New World Stages beginning on March 18, 2013 and closing on January 12, 2014. The Broadway production won five Tony Awards  for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play (Christian Borle), Best Sound Design of a Play (Darron L. West), Best Lighting Design of a Play (Jeff Croiter), Best Costume Design of a Play (Paloma Young), and Best Scenic Design of a Play (Donyale Werle).

Although the play is set in 1885, there are references to the composer Philip Glass ("as elusive as a melody in a Philip Glass opera") and to Ayn Rand, the Founder of Objectivism ("people intent on world domination, like Ayn Rand"). Both Glass and Rand had not yet been born in 1885 and the characterization of Ayn Rand's philosophy has absolutely no basis in reality. But then again, neither do many of the other things portrayed in this show such as fish turning into mermaids when exposed to starstuff that falls to Earth from the stars in the sky, amulets that act like walkie-talkies, or superstitions such as the belief that the presence of a cat on a ship is "a lucky sign." Apparently, starstuff changes people in different ways depending on their aspirations and ambitions. Starcatchers, such as Lord Leonard Aster (there are only 6 1/2 Starcatchers on the planet), are responsible for keeping starstuff out of the hands of people who will use it for no good. Lord Aster is on a secret mission for Queen Victoria to destroy a trunk full of starstuff (traveling aboard the WASP) by throwing it into Mount Jalapeno, the largest active volcano on Earth located on Mollusk Island in the Kingdom of Rundoon. For security reasons, Lord Aster speaks to his daughter Molly in Dodo (they also speak porpoise) and Norse Code (an ancient Viking signalizing system). 

Molly Aster is the only female character in the cast. She is played by Emma Geer, a talented and charismatic actor who is a shining star in this production. Molly twice repeats the famous line that "to have faith is to have wings." As an Apprentice Starcatcher, it is her obligation to save the world but at one point she ignores her father's orders and chooses instead to save Peter's life. Reflecting on the choice she would make again, Molly says, "Saving the world is so abstract. Putting a human face on it helps." When Alf, a salty and flatulent sailor, says he tries to keep in shape, Molly responds by saying, "Round is a shape." And finally, referring to Queen Victoria, she tells the orphan boys, "Victoria doesn't need starstuff to rule the world - she's British!" (Molly means "Squid Poo" in the native language of Rundoon).

For no apparent reason other than for shits and giggles, Mrs. Betty Bumbrake, Molly's widowed Nanny, is played by Eugene Dailey in drag (with a few barnacles on his bottom). She is romantically pursued by Alf and uses her large, red bloomers as a sail. My favorite Betty Bumbrake line was when she said, "Moo Shu goes through me like the winter wind in Wessex." Eugene Dailey also appears as the Mermaid Teacher in the Grotto. Ryan Nolin plays Black Stash, the lead villain, as an extremely effeminate, gay-acting Pirate Captain nicknamed "Nancy" by his crew. Black Stash, soon to become Captain Hook, was an orphan himself having been left by his mother at a tattoo parlor. Stash is in search of a worthy rival, a genuine hero, to oppose so he can become a great villain. He eventually finds that rival in Peter Pan. Black Stash is famous for misspeaking (saying "splitting rabbits" instead of "splitting hairs"; saying "no man is an archipelago" instead of "no man is an island"; and saying "merge a forger" instead of "forge a merger"). Dismissing Molly's feminine charms in the style of Frank N. Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Black Stash said, "I bet your milkshakes brings all the boys to the yard, but I'm not interested" (He was far more interested in a partnership with 13-year old Peter). He also demanded his crew get things "as clean as the sheets in a convent" and tried to get the show moving faster by saying, " We don't have time for that. People have paid for nannies and parking!" Both Eugene Dailey and Ryan Nolin were audience favorites commanding their attention and taking them on a journey of the absurd. 

I was particularly impressed with the performances of Matt Paredi as Prentiss (an exceptional actor who asserted that "the oldest must be the leader" and that "the leader must be a boy"), Louis Brady as Ted (a talented actor who spent most of Act II figuring out how to open a pineapple), David Gow (the quiet boy without a name neglected to the point of having never seen the sun, who emerged into Peter Pan, a fearless and selfless leader), David Reyes (quite distinguished and believable as Captain Robert Falcon Scott), Jordan Hue as King Zarboff/Fighting Prawn (the hilarious, island leader/former kitchen slave who hated the English, killed his former Master with poison pasta, and spoke with an Italian accent) and Michael Newman as Lord Leonard Aster (a dutiful and devoted father on a mission for Queen Victoria - "God Save The Queen!"). Each of these actors and others portrayed multiple characters and all deserve credit for maximizing the potential of each of their respective roles. 

Rick Grossman appeared as Smee, Black Stash's "right-hand man" and, in light of the trunk accident, he will need him. Smee dressed as a female, native island siren in an image you will not soon forget. Bob Kaplan played Alf as a well-weathered Seaman, and Andrew Murano was perfectly unlikeable as Captain Bill Slank, who was delivering the three orphans to King Zarboff of Rundoon to be used as snake food. Molly and Peter had an instant attraction to each other. When facing possible death after being thrown into the cage of Mr. Grin, the man-eating crocodile, Molly kissed Peter on the lips but when he asked her about it later, she brushed him off saying she had no time for "sentimentality." Peter got his first name due to a recommendation made by Black Stash and Pan, his "family" name, from the Mermaid Teacher he met in the Grotto. The Teacher explained that one meaning of the word "Pan" is "Fun, Frolic, Anarchy & Mystery" - all things a boy likes! Molly explained to him that the second meaning of the word "Pan" meant "all" as in that all the birds, the Pirates, and the boys on the island (which Peter considered renaming Neverland after the ship he arrived on) were his family and constituted his "home." Peter often stated how much he hated grown-ups and just wanted to be a boy for a while since he now experienced "Space, Light & Air" and was finally free. Due to the exposure to starstuff, Lord Leonard Aster said "a while" might be quite some time so he took the remaining starstuff in his amulet to turn an island bird into a protector to keep him company and to advise him (the origins of Tinker Bell). Even though he knew he would remain a teenager, he asked Molly to stay on the island as his friend but she refused by saying that in one year, their friendship would be "hard," in five years it would be "silly," and that in twenty years, it would be "sad." In penance for abandoning Peter, Molly allows Peter to take her daughter Wendy to the island to keep him company and suspects that Wendy will allow Peter to do the same with her daughter. 

Peter And The Starcatcher evoke highly diverse reactions from audience members. You may find the play to be confusing and uninteresting. In the alternative, you may find it charming and a complete delight. However, If you come in expecting a musical, you will be disappointed. If you arrive expecting an intelligently written play with elaborate sets, you will find the show lacking. If you are looking for a children's show, the gay, cross-dressing and downright evil characters in this play who beat the orphans, throw men overboard, and feed "the pigs" live worms, you will leave confused and possibly angry you were not warned in advance that this show may not be appropriate for young children. A bad sailor is viciously tortured, hazed, and branded. Mr. Grin, now an enormous man-eating crocodile, is on the loose, and King Zarboff is threatening to kill all the English who have come to his island. On the other hand, there is a story to be told and with the expert direction of Ken Washington, it is relayed in an interesting and imaginative manner. Many people love this play. Others don't. I would say it is a mediocre play with an excellent cast staged at the Smithtown Center For The Performing Arts in the best possible light. In that regard, this production is a success and I recommend you see it while you can. It plays through February 25, 2017. Tickets are $35.00 for adults; $32.00 for seniors; and $20.00 for students with a valid identification. You can purchase tickets by visiting the Smithtown Center For The Performing Arts website at For more information, call 631-724-3700. 

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