AT&T Performing Arts Center
Directors– Roger Rees & Alex Timbers
Composer– Wayne Barker
Movement– Steven Hoggett
Set Design – Donyale Werle
Costume Design – Paloma Young
Lighting Design – Jeff Croiter
Sound Design – Darron L. West
Music Director/Keyboard – Andy Grobengieser
Drums/Percussion – Jeremy Lowe
Black Stache – John Sanders
Molly– Megan Stern
Boy –Joey deBettencourt
LordAster – Nathan Hosner
Slank– Jimonn Cole
Smee –Luke Smith
FightingPrawn – Lee Zarrett
Alf –Harter Clingman
Captain Scott – Ian Michael Stuart
Ted –Edward Tournier
Prentiss– Carl Howell
Mrs.Bumbrake – Benjamin Schrader
Reviewed Performance 9/17/2013
Reviewed by Sten-Erik Armitage, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The Tony Award winning show Peter and the Starcatcher sets out to provide the audience with an entertaining and compelling origin story for the well-beloved character Peter Pan. This thoroughly post-modern production is full of chaos, light, sound, music, and action. So much so, that at times any semblance of a story arc or plot is lost in the frenetic pace of the production. That said, the show was consistently entertaining and engaging thanks to the innovation of the creative team and the talent and charisma of the ensemble.
The musical is based on the 2004 novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, which was the first of five prequels to the J.M. Barrie classic, Peter and Wendy. For those who are fans of Barrie’s work and the multiple plays, movies, and fiction he inspired, prepare to be confused—this prequel doesn’t line up with the canon of Barrie’s Peter Pan. J.M. Barrie in The Little White Bird first puts forth the “true origin” of Peter Pan. Lost by his parents in a freak stroller accident during a windstorm, Peter was rescued by fairies and transported toNeverland. Peter came to hate all grown-ups when he flew home, looked through the window, and saw his mother holding a new baby. The Barry/Pearson novel (and subsequently, the play) presents a very different origin for the Boy Who Never Grew Up. To encourage you toward greater literary pursuits, I will refrain from describing their take for you here. You can learn all about it when you either spend an evening at the theatre or read the novel for yourself!
There is something about the tale of Peter Pan that inspires creative story telling and staging. From the aerial acrobatics and fantasy of Mary Martin and Cathy Rigby’s Peter Pan, to the dark humor and brilliant choreography of Jeffrey Seller’s Fly, many have taken a stab at bringing Barrie’s character to life. The Tony Award winning team of Starcatcher is no exception.
The strength of this production rests on the innovative minimalism of those who created the world in which the actors worked. This may be one of the more technically demanding shows I’ve encountered. The split-second accuracy in timing required sound, lighting, and cast to all be in perfect sync throughout the night—and all three rose to the challenge! Donyale Werle chose to take a minimalistic approach to her award winning set design. Her use of color throughout the production created a fresh and organic feel with nothing more sophisticated than a length of rope or a handful of green spears. The first act took place primarily on board the two sailing vessels. Utilizing a muted color palette to convey the grim reality of Victorian era sea travel, she kept things dynamic through the innovative use of brightly colored model ships to tell the tale of the journey. The second act shattered the dusky industrialism of the first as it burst out with polychromatic vibrancy on the tropical island of Rundoon. Werle’s use of the mundane to create organic visuals and the illusion of space was ingenious. It is easy to see how her work garnered a Tony.
The perfect complement to Werle’s scenic design was Jeff Croiter’s Tony Award winning work with the lighting. This was one of those rare productions in which the lighting accomplished two very difficult goals. The first goal is to be so seamlessly integrated in with the other elements of the production that it doesn’t draw attention to itself, but rather enhances and furthers the story telling. The second would be that the lighting would, at times, take on a life of its own to the point where it becomes a character in the play. Croiter accomplished both with panache! The beautiful interplay between sound, set, movement, and lighting was masterfully done.
This brings us to the sound (yet another Tony) designed by Darron L. West. I was amazed. Some time ago I was in radio broadcasting with a co-worker who was a master at foley and sound effect work. West created a tiny little foley stage in a make-shift box seat looking down at the stage. With Werle’s minimalistic set, much was left to the imagination. Andy Grobengieser augmented our imagination with some excellent foley work. Again, timing was the key to success. West’s design, carried out by Grobengieser and Jeremy Lowe, completed the technical trifecta that made this production come to life.
One more member of the creative team took home a Tony Award for her innovative work. Paloma Young took some risks with her costume design that ultimately paid off. Her costuming was period specific and muted to integrate with the overall feel of the show. One interesting choice was the lack of the color green associated with the boy who would become Peter Pan. With the exception of a brief moment when he was given a top hat adorned with a bright green feather, the boy was clad in drab gray and brown—even after the transformative event that made him Pan.
Steven Hoggett’s blocking and choreography was nothing short of inspired. It is difficult to describe what he accomplished, but with the help of a talented cast he managed to transform the stage through actor movement and synchronization. This combined with all of the above created some truly ingenious moments on stage. This Tony award winning creative team took a script that lacked depth, character development, and cohesion, transforming it into something worth watching. But of course no show would exist at all if it weren’t for the players upon the stage! Thankfully, we were introduced to a talented ensemble cast that shone through despite a challenging script.
The show revolved around three characters: Molly, played by Megan Stern, was the confident, all-to-mature for her age daughter of Lord Aster; The Boy, played by Joey deBettencourt, was the mopey orphan boy motivated by a hatred for grown-ups; and Black Stache, played by John Sanders, the epitome of foppishly cartoon-like evil. All three of these actors shone in their roles. From beginning to end, Stern’s confidence and desire to prove herself worth of being a full starcatcher (she was only half of one you see, on account of her being an apprentice…) was convincing and consistent. deBettencourt portrayed a petulant 13 year-old boy with authority issues with ease. Both Stern and deBettencourt were thoroughly believable as young children throughout the night—not an easy task for an adult to pull off.
Sanders, as the grease-painted caricature of comedic piracy, was the paragon of comic-timing and physical comedy. As was evident throughout the night by audience response, he was the crowd favorite. Without giving too much away, there is a moment when we see that our fourth-wall breaking pirate friend is destined to receive a new name more familiar to Peter Pan aficionados due to a self-inflicted accident late in the second act. If you are unsure as to what it is I may be referring, I’d offer you a hand—but I’m not sure I have one to spare. Anyway, Sanders’ reaction to this injury is over-the-top, slapstick comedy gold.
As I said above, these performances were consistent throughout the night. This is a credit to the actors, but a weakness in the script. It isn’t my place to critique the script itself, but I want to highlight this weak spot as it speaks to the capability of the cast and the crew. The script has no significant depth, character development, or clear dramatic movement. The characters of Molly, The Boy, and Captain Black Stache are essentially the same from the moment of first reveal to closing curtain. The fact these actors and creative team were able to pull off an enjoyable night at the theatre despite a weak book and score is indicative of their talent and skill. Speaking of the score…
To call Peter and the Starcatcher a musical would be an error of category. It was a comedy with a few weak songs thrown in. There wasn’t a musical number that could be described as a “show stopper,” nor was there a vocal performance that stunned the audience into silence. With the exception of the opening number of Act II sung by a bevy of cross-dressing mermaids, none of the musical numbers are memorable. The only reason the number mentioned above is memorable is, well, cross-dressing mermaids. The song itself faded from memory moments after completion. I didn’t leave the theatre humming a theme from the show, nor could I have remembered one if I tried. This show has the potential to be a great musical; but at this point, it is not.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the rest of the ensemble cast. Jimonn Cole’s transformation from obsequious ship captain to the profiteering Bill Slank was marvelous. Cole owned the stage during his all too few moments in the spotlight. One of his crewmembers, Alf, didn’t fit the profiteering mold. Harter Clingman played the gentle, romantic, and occasionally flatulent sailor with a crude and crass gentility as he sought to win the heart of Mrs. Bumbrake, played by Benjamin Schrader. Schrader too was brilliant in his role. As Molly’s nanny, Mrs. Bumbrake was soft and kind with a lilting voice—until someone upset her. At that point the bonnet came off, and Schrader’s deep and raspy voice made her (his?) point clear. Schrader was hilarious and handled his role with the perfect mix of matronly machismo.
No Captain Hook—er, Black Stache would be complete without his Smee. It was clear that Luke Smith had quite a bit of fun with his role. He simpered when he should have been bold, was bold when he should have been simpering. Like an abused puppy, he was ever loyal to the captain he feared. The other pseudo-villain of the play was the inscrutable Fighting Prawn, played by Lee Zarrett. The leader of the Mollusks, Zarrett spoke primarily in Italian food metaphors. I couldn’t understand the purpose of his character, or what he meant when he spoke—but that’s a criticism of the script and not the actor himself.
Finally we have Prentiss (Carl Howell) and Ted (Edward Tournier) who were the future Peter’s fellow orphan companions. Howell and Tournier played the plucky comic relief next to The Boy’s rather melancholy and straight role. Many of the laughs elicited during some of the darker scenes of the production were due to the charisma and delivery of these two men.
One important note for parents: This show is billed as enjoyable for children aged 10 and up. Due to the crassness of some of the humor as well as some of the innuendo, I would exercise discernment based on your knowledge of your children.
All of these factors add up to a conflicted opinion for this reviewer. Did I enjoy the show? Yes. Yes I did. Yet I’m oddly disappointed. Hearing about this first national tour of a five Tony Award winning Broadway show set a standard of excellence in my mind. This production as a whole did not live up to that expectation. The creative team may be one of the best I’ve encountered. The entire ensemble consisted of strong and talented professionals. As a result, I was entertained but not enthralled. The legacy of Peter Pan deserves better.
PETER AND THE STARCATCHER
Winspear Opera House
2403 Flora Street, Dallas, TX 75201
Runs through September 29th
Tuesday– Saturday performances @ 8 pm, Saturday & Sunday matinees @ 2 pm, Sunday performances @ 7:30 pm. Special note: Thursday, September 26th will be available in American Sign Language.
Regular ticket prices range from $30.00 to $95.00. Show runs two and a half hours with one 15 minute intermission.
For information and to purchase tickets, go to http://www.attpac.org/, or