'Peter and the Starcatcher' review: Croswell's Peter Pan origin story soars
Courtesy of The Croswell Opera House
A whimsical, outlandish and irreverently creative spin on the origins of how Peter Pan became the Lost Boy who never wanted to grow-up, The Croswell’s “Peter and the Starcatcher” seeks to answer several questions about the characters first introduced in J.M. Barrie’s novel “Peter and Wendy,” and brought to life in the 1953 Disney animated classic. “Peter and the Starcatcher,” originally written as a novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, is adapted for the stage by Rick Elice and despite the occasional technical hiccups, and some lighting, accent, and transitional blunders, The Croswell team have put together a top-notch ensemble who gives this high-flying adventure its beating heart and should provide youngsters a perfect gateway entry into the world of live theatre. In other words, it’s fun for the whole family.
“Peter and the Starcatcher,” which is mostly spoken in various lyrical rhythms with the occasional melody, doesn’t waste time hurling theatergoers into the middle of the action. The first 10-15 minutes are a doozy of exposition where we learn of lost treasure and swashbuckling pirates who want to steal it and how a nameless orphan would eventually become the Neverland dwelling Peter Pan.
Directed by Julianne Dolan with movements by Dean Shullick, “Peter and the Starcatcher” puts much of the “spectacle” on the 15-person company who defy the laws of gravity and work with minimal resources (i.e a rope and ladders) to envision the script on stage. That’s not saying The Croswell couldn’t have created huge set pieces as seen in “Little Shop of Horrors” or “Anything Goes,” rather the beauty of “Peter and the Starcatcher” is the scaled down approach. We’re essentially watching a bedtime story come to life with all the ingenuity of an upscale readers theater presentation and I mean that as a compliment. That the cast can make me believe two gigantic ships are about to collide or a real cat is scurrying (and flying) is a testament to their impeccable stage presence and comedic chops. I imagine, like myself, children in attendance will be intrigued at some of the effective, but minor, theatrical rigging used to visualize several fantasy elements.
None of that would work, however, if not for the ensemble: Ben Bascuk and Kylie McElrath convey the heavier emotional beats of the story playing Peter (who, at the start, is just named Boy) and Molly, a 13-year old “starcatcher” and daughter of an explorer with a keen sense of awareness when it comes to magical intuition. Both excel in the roles and young children should have no problem seeing themselves in these characters as they are dreamers with big imaginations. On the other comedic side of things, is where you’ll find the dynamic duo of Peter Crist and Terry Hissong as the formidable antagonists: Captain Black Stache and his bumbling sidekick Smee. And what a treat it is watching these two comedic powerhouses play off the other in ways that yark back to vaudeville style improvisation mixed with the off-beat humor most recently showcased in the HBO smash “Our Flag Means Death.” (That show, unlike this production, is not for children).
Crist in particular brings a manic Robin Williams in “Aladdin” type energy as the Pirate who will later become Captain Hook; Conner Raymond scores big laughs as Bill Slank, a cranky captain with his own silly agenda and then later in Act II as a jungle liaison; Aaron Treadway and Meg McNamee make a great couple as Alf and Hawking Clam, two-star crossed lovers who inadvertently stumble upon each other; and Gage Sterling and Reed Schwieterman are equally compelling as Peter’s compatriots, Prentiss and Ted. And the rest of the crew, Eric Stone, Luke Gorsuch, Ella Flumignan, Kyler Mattoon, Virginia Atkinson, and Molly Humphries, soar playing a variety of different characters, though the most memorable is probably during the Act II opener when everyone is dressed in Mermaid garb. Costume designer Alexandria Szczotka deserves major credit in that department.
And though there’s not much in the way of scenery, scenic and lighting designer Crosby Slupe creates a nice canvas for the actors to play on, allowing them the freedom to maneuver in and out of their duties with ease: wheather that’s encompassing two different boats (and their inner workings), a jungle, and, well, mermaids, the playground aesthetic is appeasing for both adults and children. Music director Todd Schreiber, appropriately outfitted and dressed on stage, has no problem bringing the most out of Wayne Barker’s catchy tunes; Chris Goosman crafts an interesting sound design that contains a cartoonish mixture of goofy sounds, think tip-toeing and flatulence, which helps with the play's storybook (and childlike) qualities. Who doesn't enjoy a good fart joke every now and again?
But I stress, none of this could be achieved if the actors didn’t communicate and trust each other on stage. As each member takes turns delivering this, at times, complex narrative, the others instantly become different shapes and sizes at rapid speed without rarely missing a beat. It’s quite exhilarating to watch. No spot is either too big or too small. Everyone has a role to play in order to make this ship sail and they do in strides.
It’s a reminder that when a cast is on this same wavelength and synchronicity, it can transcend any minor blemishes that may percolate throughout the show (specifically integral moments where characters weren’t lit properly). Sure, “Peter and the Starcatcher” could be classified as a coming-of-age-tale, but it’s also, as demonstrated by this company, about a sense of community and how characters can redefine their own journeys. It won’t take a sprinkle of fairy dust from Tinker Bell to make you believe in that concept and this show, but don't be surprised if you leave buzzing or, better yet, flying.
The Croswell’s production of PETER AND THE STARCATCHER continues through Sunday, October 23rd. Tickets can be purchased at Croswell.org.