“Peter & The Starcatcher” at the Orpheum Theatre: Sophistication vs. Whimsy… Why Not Both?

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Not to be mistaken for a musical with few songs, the play Peter and the Starcatcher – based on the children’s novelPeter and the Starcatchers – is a delightfully cheery means of escape. It has the ideal combination of masterful adult theatrics and a whimsical childhood imagination. It tells of the backstory to Peter Pan – Peter Pan: The Prequel, if you will – wherein two ships are battling it out, the Wasp and the Neverland, for two different trunks that were switched before the ships departed. Both crews want the other trunk. Not an incredibly deep and intricate plot; this show will not give you the answers to life’s big questions. It will, however, take your mind off of pondering the meaning of life and bring you back to your childhood days of pretending to be a ship captain in the “ship” made of planks and nails in your backyard.

While the entire cast showed simultaneous gaiety and mature stagecraft, employing each when necessary, there was a specific standout that brought life to every moment he was on stage: John Sanders as Black Stache (turned Captain Hook). Sanders was an actor in every sense of the word. When he was on stage, it was as though his every breath flooded the stage and sent a wash over the audience, drawn to even his most minute of actions. It was as though when he stepped in front of the audience as Black Stache, his entire body screamed flamboyant and effeminate as a longing to be the constant center of attention. For instance, when he accidentally cuts his hand off by slamming it in a trunk lid, he erupts in a hysteric fit utilizing only the words, “Oh my God.” His varying intonations on only those three words sends the audience into bouts of laughing so hard they’re all crying. An absolutely magnificent talent this production has in John Sanders.

If I were to have one, infinitesimal, less-than-flawless moment of this show, it would have been Megan Stern’s portrayal of Molly – the young girl hoping to prove her worth as a leader and become a starcatcher. Stern’s interpretation of the character was one of an adult playing a child wanting to be an adult. Personally, I could never fully immerse myself in her performance because she never broke her adult attitude to wrestle with the idea of being a child. Ultimately, though, her interpretation did not negatively affect this production very much at all.

One tech detail that did wonders in adding to the production was the set. Skillfully incorporating the sophistication of everything a modern set should be – original, malleable, pragmatic – with the glitter of a child’s imagination, Michael Carnahan as the Associate Scenic Designer did all that and more with his star of a set. I can only imagine that he also worked in conjunction, at least slightly, with Patrick McCollum, the Movement Associate. Together, they appropriated some rope for use as a variety of different objects that would normally have to be attached to a fly system. Instead, this rope – using (surprise!) the powers of a child’s imagination – became waves in the ocean, a boxing ring, a tiny ship cabin, among many other things. A truly masterful show in the merits of versatility.

Ultimately, Peter and the Starcatcher draws you into remembering the bygone days of childhood with whist and laughs. The deft showing of talent from all areas of the stage, both in front of the audience and behind the scenes, made this play worth ten times its weight in Tony Awards.