In the world of theatre, it’s not too difficult to find a play that will enrich your soul, or tickle your emotions, but it’s difficult to find a piece that’s undeniably fun. Thankfully, Zach Theatre, led by award-winning director Michael Baron, has answered the call with a production of Rick Elice’s “Peter and the Starcatcher”, a clever prequel to the world-famous children story “Peter Pan” based upon the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, which takes several elements from the original story, throws them into the blender, and then forgets to put on the lid, creating an explosion of color, adventure, and swashbuckling excitement.
The plot of “Peter and the Starcatcher” can be a bit of a heavy load to take in at first. We find Lord Leonard Astor and his daughter, Molly, who are journeying to the island of Rundoon to transport a mysterious trunk, when they run afoul of a group of pirate who wish to have the trunk for themselves. What follows is a ridiculous roundabout, which leads everyone to an island full of flying crocodiles, Italian natives, and bizarre mermaids. It’s madcap, and it’s definitely silly, but it’s also the most fun I’ve had at the theatre in some time.
At times, “Peter and the Starcatcher” flies by the audience at remarkable speeds, and it’s a credit to director Michael Baron that he makes these scenes not only coherent, but a treat to take in. The play has a remarkable momentum, with many scenes playing off like Benny Hill sketches, until we’re allowed a moment to breathe, and take in the impeccably designed sets by Scott Groh, which is underscored by the sumptuous lighting design by Matt Webb. They really help to create a fascinating fantasyscape that’s at once reminiscent of the swashbuckling pirate adventures we know, and something all its own.
There’s not an ounce of shame on the stage at any time, and this confidence in the actors really pays off. They take wild chances, creating explosive and wild characters that take us on an impeccably crafted journey. In particular, J. Robert Moore’s Black Stache is so deliciously over-the-top that the stage gets a few steps brighter every time he arrives, striding across the boards with a gaunt and elegant style that you can’t help but be delighted by. He’s lithe, he’s silly, and he makes such entertaining choices, that it’s hard to not crack a smile when he traipses across the boards. Also bringing her share of delight is Sara Burke as the female lead, Molly. So rarely do we see a strong female character on stage, and Sara Burke carries this young girl with a rare composure, while still bringing that certain childish attitude to the role to remind us that this character is, after all, only a 13-year-old girl.
Of course, we mustn’t forget about the titular character, Peter, who will one day become the world famous Peter Pan. Here, he spends most of his time as an unnamed boy, and he carries the role with an awkward sincerity. He has fun and runs around as much as the other “lost boys”, but there’s something more guarded, more tucked away about him, until his last few moments. Watching this quiet, awkward boy become the Peter Pan we know and love is one of the delights of the show, and though we know where the road will end, we love seeing his journey in getting there. In particular, Peter’s relationship with Black Stache, the future Captain Hook, is well designed, as the two play off each other in really hilarious ways.
In the culinary journey that is the theatrical experience, “Peter and the Starcatcher” is a big slice of chocolate cake, but one can’t deny it’s a good one. It may not be particularly culturally fulfilling, but it’s colorful, loud, and silly fun. The action is fluid and dynamic, but rarely confusing, and one never knows what’s coming next (which is never more evident as in the opening scene of the third act). True all-ages entertainment, it’s a swashbuckling ride that’ll bring you back to the wonders of your youth.
“Peter and the Starcatcher” runs roughly 2 hours and 25 minutes with one intermission, and is playing at Zach Theatre’s Topfer Theatre through March 1st. For more information, to purchase tickets, visit Zach Theatre’s website at zachtheatre.org
Photo Courtesy of Kirk Tuck