Review: “Peter and the Starcatcher” on Broadway
If you can only see one show on Broadway this season, it should be “Peter and the Starcatcher.” Currently enchanting audiences of all ages at Broadway’s Brooks Atkinson Theater, this whimsical and inventive new play draws upon the sense of child-like wonder in all of us with an interesting and well-crafted production that delights adults and children alike. Based on the novel Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, Peter and the Starcatcher brings us the story of Peter Pan—but not the one that audiences are used to hearing. Rather, this story tells of Peter as he transitions from a lonely orphan into the Lost Boy we know and love, and the young girl that made his courage and adventurous spirit possible.
Bringing this story to life is playwright Rick Elice, known for his previous work on such Broadway shows as Jersey Boys and The Addams Family. For Peter and the Starcatcher, Elice has crafted a whimsical and enchanting script that creates just as much excitement and whimsy for an adult as it does for a child. Combining witty dialogue, direct addresses to the audience, and the occasional pop culture reference, the play is humorous yet wondrous, able to go between being hilarious and poignant at a moment’s notice. The fast pace, wonderful language, and wittiness of the dialogue makes for a script that bursts with intricacies and details; audiences can see this show again and again and be able to pick up on a new pun or joke each time. But while adults can enjoy these nuances, the text never becomes challenging or the plot hard to understand; this family-friendly show never goes too far for children or keeps them out of the loop.
Aiding the telling of the story just as much as Elice’s script, however, is the amazingly inventive direction by Alex Timbers and Roger Rees. With a cast of only twelve actors and minimal set pieces, the show’s staging is complex yet minimal, relying as much on the audience’s imagination as the staging itself to bring this enchanting tale to life. The ridiculously talented ensemble of actors deftly maneuver themselves and just a few key props to create hundreds of different scenes and characters; highlights include a scene in which the actors become a series of doors and a small cabin in a ship created solely out of a piece of rope held up by two actors. By just evoking these scenes and letting the audience’s imagination do the rest, the piece feels richer and more enchanting overall, drawing the audience into the piece and helping to create a sense of child-like whimsy that only strengthens this story about the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up.
While the set pieces of the show are minimal, they are nonetheless incredibly fantastical and integral to the show’s atmosphere of enchantment. Made primarily using found objects and recycled materials, the main set pieces in the show give the play a handmade and organic quality, perfectly setting the scene without being overly specific or overdone. Most awe-inspiring is the proscenium arch that hangs above the theatre. Entirely created from existing materials that include kitchen utensils and rope, set designer Donyale Werle has created a piece that immediately lets the audience know that they’re in for something special as soon as they enter the theatre.
However, the amazing content and staging of the show would be nothing were it not for the hard-working and unbelievably talented actors that bring the show to life. With a cast of only 12 performers and hundreds of characters appearing throughout the show, these amazing actors manage to seamlessly go from character to character without a hitch. In this ensemble of actors, even lead performers go from having an integral part in one scene to being a background pirate or sailor in the next, creating a true sense of community that helps make this play feel so special and easy to connect with. Standout performances from the cast include Adam Chandler-Berat as Peter, who manages to have the perfect combination of wide-eyed innocence and self-confidence, and Tony nominee Celia Keenan-Bolger as Molly, who truly becomes the center of the show in her perfectly assured yet naïve depiction of the young girl who changes Peter’s life forever. But the true highlight in the cast is Christian Borle as Black Stache, the dastardly pirate who will go on to become the infamous Captain Hook. Best known for his portrayal of composer Tom Levitt on NBC’s Smash, Borle assumes the role of Black Stache with a confident swagger and overacted portrayal that perfectly fits this nefarious yet buffoonish character, immediately drawing the audience in and making them roar with laughter with each mannerism or joke.
To put it simply, Peter and the Starcatcher is both theatre and Disney at its best. The immense creativity of the script and direction epitomize why live theatre is such an important medium, as the audience is given the chance to become an integral part of the show through using their own creativity and suspension of disbelief in a way that no other medium of performance can offer. While Disney Theatricals serves only as a producing partner in the show and not as its main sponsor, the show also functions as the best Disney things do, drawing upon our imaginations to create a sense of child-like wonder in audiences of all ages while maintaining a strong attention to detail that keeps us coming back again and again. While there may be plenty of Broadway shows out there that offer celebrities, spectacle, or a sense of grandiose splendor, Peter and the Starcatcher, with just twelve actors and a powerful script and point of view, manages to be one of the greatest shows to hit Broadway in a long time.