“Peter & The Starcatcher” at the Orpheum Theatre: The Show That Never Grew Up

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If you’re like me, you probably read a lot when you were younger, before the to-do lists stretched into the night and deadlines beckoned ominously. Since then, you may have forgotten just how clever the books you used to read were. Peter and the Starcatcher, a show rich in magical realism and the struggle of coming of age (or, in Peter’s case, refusing to do so), is an invitation to remember.

The show is based on a book by the same title, written by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, and the literary origins are plainly evident throughout the production. The saving-the-world narrative is more developed and plot-heavy than many musicals are. Then again, Peter and the Starcatcher is barely a musical, focusing mostly on dialogue, acting, and narration with only a few well-executed detours into song. Meanwhile, it’s clear that playwright Rick Elice had a rollicking good time writing the script. He plays with language constantly, writing one character whose lines are always alliterations and another who speaks mainly in hilarious malapropisms. If you enjoy intelligent wordplay, Elice is your man.

The entire show is playful, really, which accounts for the utter lack of formality in both the lines and the set. The latter is among the most creative and innovative in musical theater, thanks to set designer Donyale Werle. While there are a few tangible, fixed set pieces, such as the ship’s rigging in the background, most of the set is made of the actors themselves, with the help of a few props and the audience’s imagination. On The Neverland, one of the two ships in Peter and the Starcatcher, the walls and doors are depicted by lines of actors who move to show the tilt of the ship or the opening of a door. Small compartments, meanwhile, are shown with a rope that two actors hold in the shape of a box. This ingenious improvisation immediately demands that the audience leave behind its conceptions of reality and join in the cast’s extended game of make-believe, which is a perfect setup for this prequel to Peter Pan.

The one problem with Peter and the Starcatcher is that of casting American adults to play British 13-year-olds. While the actors manage to depict their characters rather well, the accents vary widely throughout the cast. Megan Stern’s overly affected British accent in the role of Molly is particularly distracting when juxtaposed with Joey deBettencourt’s decidedly American sound in the role of Peter. Nevertheless, the spectacular story, script, set, and acting more than atone for the dissonant elocution of the two leads.

While Peter and the Starcatcher will inevitably be a hit with children, it’s also surprisingly fun for those whom Peter would label with the intensely derogatory term “grown-ups.” The script, set, and movement are the perfect blend of intelligent and playful. The story is smart and fast-paced without requiring intense concentration or reflection to understand. On the whole, the production is like a smoothie made of whimsy and wordplay, beauty and brains, comedy and cleverness. Drink up. Enjoy. Nothing has been this innocently fun since you were an age when you thought you’d never grow up.