Sunday, December 06, 2015


Mention author J. M. Barrie, and the immediate thought is Peter Pan.  Peter Pan, the tale of a boy who refused to grow up, has become a cottage industry.   Dolls, movies, a musical play, coloring books, cartoons, Halloween costumes, a non-musical play, and books are all available.   There is even a psychological condition, “The Peter Pan Syndrome,” which puts the spotlight on men who refuse to assume responsibility for their boyish actions.

Did you know that there was a prequel written about Peter and the boys?  Yes, a subsidiary of Disney published, PETER AND THE STARCATCHERS, a 2004 book by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, which provides a back story, their explanation of what happened before the J. M. Barrie popular tale, PETER PAN.  The initial Starcatchers book was so well received that it spawned a series of novels.

A play with music, PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (no “s”), with book by Rick Elice and music by Wayne Barker, was adapted from the prequel book.   It debuted in 2009 at La Jolla Playhouse.  It was restaged in 2011 as an Off-Broadway production, and opened on Broadway in 2012.   It is now on stage at Dobama Theatre, with direction by Nathan Motta.

Act 1 takes place at sea.  We sail on ships which evolve before our eyes.  Act Two finds us on an island.  

The tale allows finding out how an orphan called “Boy” evolves into a lad named “Peter.”  The story reveals how he and two friends meet Molly, confront a band of pirates led by Black Stache, and how a crocodile got a taste for the pirate leader.  We share with the cast how Peter protects a trunk of “star stuff,” and the mischievous Tinker Belle comes to be.   The action ends as Molly and her father return to the real world, while Peter and the Lost Boys remain on the island of Neverland, with a promise by Peter to visit Molly sometime in the future.  

Those in the know, realize that Peter will use the “star stuff” to fly to a home in England, where Molly (Darling) now lives with her children, Wendy, John and Michael.  And, of course, Peter will take the trio on a flight to Neverland where Wendy will become, at least for a short time, the “mother” of the Lost Boys and have an adventure which includes a croc, Captain Hook (Black Stache), a band of pirates, some Indians, Tiger Lilly, and, well….you get the idea!

The farce is performed with imaginative staging that enhances the fantasy nature of the work.   The production elements are creative.  Filled with ropes which become waves of water, doorways which move all over the stage, devices for levitation and Peter’s near drowning and flight, the effects, work well.  Hanging sheets of filmy gauze create sails, but are also used as devices for a mermaid to hang from and swim through the sea.  All that has to be supplied is a little imagination from the viewer and a little effort not to be overwhelmed.

Molly Israel is delightful as tomboy, Molly, with enough lady-like characteristics to imagine her as a future “proper” mother.   Luke Wehner, he of eyes of light blue pools of water and boyish face and mannerisms, delights as Peter, the orphan boy who doesn’t want to grow up.

Ryan Thurman (Ted) and Kyle Adam (Prentiss) take on the roles of Peter’s orphan friends with boyish hellion qualities.  They both have mobile faces and do their comedy “shticks” well! 

Christopher Bohan has wonderful farce timing and creates a “fiercesome” Black Stache, a pussy cat of a pirate who tries to put on a bad-guy veneer.  His “oh, My God” scene, when he cuts off his hand, is hysterically funny, milking much from repeating the phrase for multi-laughs.

Andrew Gorell morphs into Smee, Black Stache’s bumbling henchman, with a nice farcical tone.  James Rankin’s drag interpretation of Mrs. Bumbrake, Wendy’s nanny, is delicious.

To put the oft-overdone and frenetic first act into perspective, you have to realize that it was the writers intention to have their tale be “deliriously foolish.”  In this staging, the interpretation of the authors’ intention may have been taken to literally.  It is hoped that as the production receives additional performances the pirates will control their over-acting and decrease the decibel level of their incessant screaming, which makes their speeches often difficult to understand, and the franticness of the movements will calm down a might.

Scenic Designer Aaron Benson has created an impressive massive raised platform stage that totally fills the theatre’s acting area and allows for trapdoors to be used for props and actors to use for popping into and out of scenes.

Marcus Dana’s lighting and Richard Ingraham’s sound designs enhance the production, as do Tesia Dugan Benson’s costumes.  Benson Theatricals did a yeoman’s job in creating and obtaining the numerous props.

To add to the experience, Jonathan Wilhelm, Dobama’s Associate Managing Director, and the staff of the Heights (Lee Road) Library, have created a wonderful pictorial history lesson about Peter Pan which can be viewed in the gallery just off the upper lobby of the theatre. 

Capsule judgement:  PETER AND THE STARCATCHER gets a farcical, creative and generally enjoyable production under the direction of Nathan Motta.  Though the first act often seemed exceedingly frenetic, the second act successfully developed the meaning of the story and made for an evening well spent.  It’s a chance for children and adults to let their imaginations run wild and, like Peter, never grow up.

PETER AND THE STARCATCHER runs through January 3, 2016 at Dobama Theatre.  Call 216-932-3396 or for tickets.