A Peter Pan Prequel That Doesn’t Enchant at Playhouse on Park

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Peter and the Starcatcher-414 curt henderson
Photo by Curt Henderson

By Karen Isaacs

 Peter Pan has become an obsession with playwrights and filmmakers in the last 20 years or so. Movies, plays and musicals attempt to tell the story of how J. M. Barrie wrote the novel and play as well as prequels and sequels. From the film Hook to the more recent musical Finding Neverland is seems as we cannot escape the story.

Peter and the Starcatcher is another of these, but one that was conceived with great imagination. It originated off-Broadway before moving to Broadway for a good run and then a national tour.

It too is a prequel to the Barrie original. It purports to tell the story of Molly, a young English girl and her encounter with some orphan boys while on a ship sailing to Rundoon, a fictional Far East country.

What makes it an enjoyable evening entertainment is the concept of the piece – a small ensemble of performers easily shifting parts with makeshift costumes and props. You can almost imagine children putting on the play in an attic or playroom. It even has the bad jokes and awful puns that children love.

Another element is that the story is told like one those old-time movie serials. It’s an adventure story with more twists and turns than a roller coaster. Keeping track of them all could be arduous but you quickly realize that the details don’t really matter.

As you are watching, you will see all of the elements of the Peter Pan we know, pop up – from Captain Hook, to the crocodile and even the ticking clock. But the author Rick Elice, based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, have tossed in even more adventures. Plus, there are songs – most of which have no relevance to what is going on in the show.

This Playhouse on Park production, through Oct. 14 has its flaws. Is the play longer than necessary or did the pace of this production make it seem so? It just seemed either too long or lacking the evanescence needed to keep it and two ships afloat.

To fully enjoy this play you need to think about the movie serials that were staples of children’s matinees in old-fashioned movie theaters. Each brief episode ended with some sort of cliffhanger with one or more characters in danger. So we meet three orphan boys who are being sold into slavery in the Far East; then we meet Molly and her father; he is envoy of Queen Elizabeth carrying out an important mission (and a trunk) to The Wasp, the fast sailing vessel captained by Robert Falcon Scott. Molly is to go on the other slower ship, which is definitely second, or third class.

Let’s not get into all the details – let’s just say that Molly, the boys, her father and Captain Scott have much happen to them. And by the end we know how Peter Pan got his name.

Scenic designer David Lewis has made effective use of the large playing area. The minimalist set adapts to the multiple locations, ships and more. Kate Bunce, costume designer, did a great job with the mermaids for the act two opening number, “Memaid Outta Me.”  The number is part burlesque and very funny but simply holds up the show.

The direction by Sean Harris sometimes overly lengthens moments – for example when Molly crawls through the ship to find the boys – so that they lose their punch. During the run, I’m sure the cast will become more of an ensemble and less individual performers.

Overall the casting is good. Matthew Quinn as the pirate “Black Stache” has few Cyril Richard moments – he was the definitive Captain Hook in the original musical. Quinn manages get the humor out of the part without becoming hammy.

The stand out performer for me was Natalie Sannes, who plays Molly. She is not a child actor but does capture the character totally. The rest of the cast does a fine job with the multiple roles.

Since this show was so successful on Broadway and on tour, I have to wonder what happened. Based on this production, Peter and the Starcatcher has some enjoyable moments but they don’t add up to entire evening’s fun.

For tickets, visit Playhouse on Park..

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