J.M. Barrie’s classic Peter Pan has seen its share of adaptations. It started off in 1904 as a play that opened at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London, and later became written down as a novel in 1911. Peter Pan has also took to the silver screen, with creative re-interpretations that range from the well-known Disney film to the vampire teens of The Lost Boys to the sequel Hook starring Robin Williams. Under the dual pens of Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, Peter Pan has spun off into a YA book series of prequels. Now, Peter and the Starcatcher, the first in that series, makes its premiere on Broadway this week at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. Before Peter became “the Boy Who Would Not Grow Up,” he was just “The Boy,” a scraggly British orphan on his way to be sold into slavery in a foreign land. That is, until he encounters a mysterious trunk and a more mysterious girl on a mission from Queen Victoria.
I admit to not having read the books before seeing the show, but Peter and the Starcatcher was an innovative, high-energy production that at least made great use of Dave Barry’s referential humorous style and the other Barrie’s wondrous original material.
The show begins with Molly (Tony-nominated Celia Keenan-Bolger), a know-it-all, splunky heroine of the Hermione Granger variety, who is assisting her father Lord Aster (Rick Holmes) on a secret mission for the Queen to dispose of a trunk in Rundoon. Molly, impatient to grow-up, is upset when her father tells her that she must take the slower voyage to Rundoon on the ship Neverland while he takes the speedy (but more perilous) sea route onboard the Wasp with the trunk in question. Adventure awaits Molly and her governess Mrs. Bumbrake (played with a cross-gender switch by Arnie Burton, one of many men-in-drag aspects of the show), however, when they board the Neverland only to discover the Captain and crew are a corrupt lot. Additionally, Molly discovers three orphan boys: the foodie Ted (David Rossmer), the “leader” Prentiss (Carson Elrod), and the emo-struck and nameless Boy (Adam Chandler-Berat). She plays the surrogate mother figure to all three much in the same way Wendy does in the original.
Meanwhile, on the Wasp, it is discovered that pirates had secretly taken over the ship, led by the malapropism-spouting fop Black Stache (Christian Borle). They want the trunk and its treasure for themselves, but open the one on the Wasp only to discover that it is full of sand. Where is the real treasure chest? Why, on board the Neverland by mistake, as Molly and her friends discover. Molly then confesses her mission: she is a Starcatcher (well, one In-Training), part of a group in charge of gathering “starstuff,” a magical substance from fallen stars, and protecting it from falling into the wrong hands. She and her father were ordered by the Queen to dispose the last of the starstuff in Rundoon’s volcano, the hottest spot in the world. Thus, begins an adventure that features a sea chase, giant crocodiles, anti-British natives, mermaids, and stubborn pineapples.
Irreverent humor punctuates the show. Historical and anachronistic references abound in the zingy dialogue, including a running bit about The Queen (“God Save Her!”) and potshots about England’s imperialistic ambitions and generally haughty attitude. The physical choreography is rambunctious and fun, including a full-on drag mermaid ensemble with the most creative use of kitchenware for costuming.
Colorful explanations are made for all the aspects of what is found in the original Peter Pan. The best re-interpretation was of the natives of the island, who in the original Peter Pan, were stereotypical “cowboy and Indian” savages. Here in the play (and, I’m assuming in Barry and Pearson’s book), the Mollusk clan are cheeky members from a cargo cult tribe, whose chief Fighting Prawn (Teddy Bergman) mistrusts foreigners because of his experience as an escaped British kitchen slave (but he still prizes their cutlery).
Adam Chandler-Berat, also known for his role as the schoolboy love interest to the daughter in Next-to-Normal, gives the role of angsty preteen a spin as The Boy. The Boy is certainly not as fun to watch as Molly is, but gives the audience an understanding of how he becomes Peter. He picks up his first name from Black Stache, and then his second one after falling into a pool of starstuff. The Boy is certainly very, very emo (and has the hairstyle to prove it), and his motto of “I Hate Grownups; they always lie!” hints at the complex Peter would later develop.
In a production with such a lively ensemble, though, the showstealer is Christian Borle. Readers might know him better as Tom Levitt, the composer in the musical TV show Smash. Black Stache has the best lines and references, from taunting Molly about whether her “milkshake brings all the boys to the yard” to musing whether something can be as meaningful as a madeleine in a Proust novel. Rarely did any of the outrageous scenarios in the show fall flat, especially when Black Stache made his turn on the stage. I was disappointed though, when instead of seeing Black Stache get his hand bitten off by Tick-Tock to then become Hook, he loses it in a much more simpler way.
Along with the ensemble and the dialogue, the set is as ragtag as one can imagine the junk-filled, savaged shores of Neverland to be. I adored the DIY, found-materials aesthetic; I was told this was a part of the steampunk look to the show, but I think the artistic touch, while certainly a blend of anachronistic and Victorian, isn’t exactly steampunk.
As a whole, Peter and the Starcatcher makes for a fun evening out. I highly recommend this show for all ages; the audience was howling non-stop from start to finish and so was I. While Broadway is becoming cluttered with remakes and movie adaptations, I’m glad that this literary transfer to the stage was worth watching.
Peter and the Starcatcher is currently playing at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. You can buy tickets and check out additional information on their official website.
Ay-leen the Peacemaker is heading to the second star to the right straight on ’til morning. Until then, she runs the multicultural steampunk blog Beyond Victoriana and is a graduate student. You can also follow her on Twitter.