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4/16/12

Peter and the Starcatcher...Welcome Back Childhood!

Out of all the trends of that seemed to pop up this season, the one that excites me the most is this trend of child-like nostalgia. Maybe that is because last year was full of musicals/shows set in the 60's with the results ranging from horrendous to 'only good,' but this new trend I can sign off on entirely.

And I don't mean the nostalgia in the sense of reviving a show (even though Godspell is certainly a great example). But shows like Newsies, clearly the most obvious one, and the upcoming transfer of Matilda really come to mind. There is just something about putting on a production that (1) the audience has some association with it going back a few decades and (2) the cast knows and feels that same thing too.

I want this to be my life. My childhood dream...
That is only one of the reasons why Peter and the Starcatcher, an inspired prequel to Peter Pan which just opened at the Brooks Atkinson Theater, is pure, blissful joy. You can even make a small case that its successful run, at the New York Theater Workshop about a year ago, helped add to this trend. As the ensemble works the stage props, if they are not the props themselves, the production feels low-key, but impact full and organic…right down to the stage (check out this feature about how the stage was made; it’s way ghetto). It all calls to mind a bunch of neighborhood kids putting on an impromptu performance with a few hours of preparation and whatever they can find at the junkyard. They do a fantastic job of suspending our disbeliefs that this person is actually falling off a ship into water or that person is replicating a barrel or a bush or something.  Plus, the show inspires us to tap into our imaginations to fill in the gaps as needed. My inner child, which still happens too be alive and strong after years of pretension and jaded cynicism, would have LOVED to be on stage with the rest of them. Oh, the dreams I had of becoming one of the lost boys...

What really stood out to me was the uber-creative story. Considering a significant portion of Broadway is on a long over-done revival and movie-adaptation kick, a prequel is a notch above by comparison (for the record, this adaptation is based on the book series of Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s). But the story is remarkable even if it wasn't sailing in a sea of adaptations and redos. The elements by which we remember Peter Pan - how he came about, where Tinkerbell came from, how Captain Hook got a hook for his hand and became lifelong rivals with Peter, how the crocodile started ticking - they are all there and done in a way to satisfy longtime Pan fans. It starts on a series of ships sailing on the high seas and ends up on the island that would become known as Neverland. Along the way, there are tussles over a treasure chest, battles aboard the ships, adventures through the jungle, etc. It runs out of steam towards the end of the second act, but that's it. The good news is, the show is not weighed down in its setup for the eventual story that becomes of it; it stands on its own as an inventive, good-hearted, spirited and entertaining bundle of fun.

As if the story was not enough, we also got a handful of noteworthy performances and one performance so perfect and otherworldly fabulous, my body may never be able to recover. Adam Chandler-Beret, as the orphan boy who becomes Peter, is perfectly cast. One look at him and his childish appearance and styling just clicks. I really liked his performance, even though it had its moments of imperfection. His projected cynicism was a little tough to swallow because it came off a little emo and off-tone for the rest of the show. But he really shines when he interacts with Molly and she starts to rub off on him, as the disaffected exterior gets shattered and he makes the transformation from kicked-around kid to optimistic, enlivened, courageous spirit.

Celia Keenan-Bolger stands alone as the lone pair of ovaries in the entire production and she knocks it out of the park as Molly, a precocious Starcatcher (the show explains what that is; no worries). Last I saw her was when she played the drinking, witty Mary Flynn in the Encore's production of Merrily We Roll Along that ran this past February. This may be my favorite performance of hers to date, as she manages to sidestep the "obnoxious" label and make her character utterly charming and one to root for. She also has too many funny moments to count, as is the joys in itself of having the 34-year-old Celia play a 13-year-old girl. Broadway...where age is of no relevance. At all.

"You see this 'stache? Sassier then you'll ever know."
I cannot type the name Christian Borle without smiling ear to ear. Anyone who recalls my commentary on Smash knows off-hand that I am consistently impressed by his talent as he tries to lift the show out of its doldrums week after week (the number he performed last week was fantastic and easily a series favorite). It is awesome having him back on Broadway, where he is certainly no stranger, and watching him sink his teeth into Blackstache, a sea-faring, flamboyant, self-serving pirate, is utterly divine. Borle nails the comedic delivery of his lines and draws large laughter (and applause) from his mannerisms. This is blazingly apparent when he starts…"vamping” for the audience and prancing very sassily all over stage; he looks like he’s having a blast. The character was there to be mined for comedy and Borle is more then up to the task. This is easily one of my favorite performances this season.

Looking at some other shows on Broadway, non-musicals mostly, there are hardly any as fun and ethereal as Starcatcher. Heading to Neverland, just like Peter Pan before it, is a whimsical escape that most people will lose sight of reality for the two-and-a-half hours they are inside the theater. And isn’t that what it is all about? When Borle, Beret, Bolger and the on-point ensemble are tearing up that stage, you won’t be thinking of what report you have to file or the tax return that is still sitting on your coffee table. While I have yet to find the real Neverland (which I will never stop looking for, just like Narnia and Hogwarts), this one will hold me over in the meantime.




Photo Credit: Peter and the Starcatcher Facebook

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