By Gary Murray

Starring Joey DeBettencourt, John Sanders and Megan Stern

Play by Rick Elice

Music by Wayne Barker

Directed by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers

The story of Peter Pan has been told on stage, in film and with other media for over 100 years.  The tale is of a boy who doesn’t want to grow up.  It is kind of work that tugs the heartstring of the child in all of us.  Over the years, there have been many different versions of the story with the Disney version as the most famous.  The newest to take on this mythology is Peter and the Starcatcher.  It plays as a part of the Lexus Broadway Series at the AT&T Performing Arts Center.

Very loosely based on the novel by Dave Berry and Ridley Pearson, the story is of all of the events that happen before the original J.M. Barrie tale.  This story is of Boy (Joey DeBettencourt) an orphaned child who lives on the streets of 1885 London.  Using our imagination, we are to fill in much of the sets and props.  This is a purposefully low-budget looking affair. 

Soon we meet Molly (Megan Stern) and her father Lord Aster (Nathan Hoser).  They are in charge of two steam trunks.  One contains cargo that belongs to the Queen.  The other contains sand and is a decoy. The cargo is put upon two different boats, the Wasp and the Neverland. 

Molly is a junior league Starcatcher trying to capture star-stuff.  She has a way of communicating with her father using a special Dodo language.  She also gets a magical amulet. 

Everything turns around when it is discovered that the sailors on board are pirates.  We are introduced the most feared captain of the seas, Black Stache (John Sanders).  With his Groucho Marx style of black mustache, the play finally takes off to high parody and low hi-jinx.  A hurricane crashes the ships.  To be honest, there is so much going on in Act One, it is a bit of a confusing mess.  Author Rick Elice needed to focus his story at the beginning.

The Second Act is where the play finally finds its footing and takes off.  It opens with the only true show-stopping number.  The entire cast takes on the roles of mermaids and explains how they have been transformed from fish.  It is a hoot to see the men dressed in bras made of colanders and mustard bottles.  It gets the biggest laughs of the entire work. 

With Peter and Molly stranded, they must figure out a way to survive on the island and protect the chest.  There are Indians who do not trust the English, mermaids and of course a giant crocodile.  Black Stache wants the chest and will do just about anything to get it.  It becomes a battle between the forces of good and evil on the tiny isle.  It is also where most of the laughs are generated. 

Toward the very end, Black Stache gets his hand caught in the trunk and John Sanders milks it for every moment of comedy.  It is not only the highlight of the Second Act; it becomes the highlight of the entire play.   It is the Second Act that saves the First Act.   

John Sander is absolutely brilliant as Black Stache.  It is one of the funniest and more overly melodramatic bits of acting seen on the opera state in seasons.  He chews every bit of scenery with a mad glee.  If there were only one reason to see Peter and the Starcatcher, it would be to see this master comic doing his best Marx Brothers shtick.

As the only female in the cast, Megan Stern has a much more difficult job that one would assume.  She has a fine voice and does magic with her voice in the few moments she gets to sing.  This is much more of the ‘straight-man’ role done by a woman.  She sets up more jokes for her male cast member than she gets to take her comedic shots.  It is a thankless job that she does well. 

The production will rise and fall on the shoulders of the lead.  Joey DeBettencourt does a great job of playing a boy who doesn’t want to grow-up.  He finds reason behind the character, an explanation of why Peter Pan is who he is and the pathos of fighting convention.  It is the story of him becoming a leader, taking responsibility while still clinging to innocence.   

The play runs somewhere between melodrama and vaudeville.  It revels in its low production values and makes more than one reference to how cheap it all looks.  The proscenium arch is a mad collage of every utensil in the kitchen.  But, that is part of the charm.  It is the ‘let’s put on a show’ aspect of the production that endears itself to the audience. 

This play may not be everybody’s cup of tea and there were many who walked out after the First Act.  Like many works, the ending can save a weak beginning and Peter and the Starcatcher does just that.  It may not be a ‘must see’ production but it is a very funny little play.

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