Monday, June 4, 2012

Theater Review: Peter and the Starcatcher

Location: Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 West 47th Street, NY, NY

Website: Official Peter and the Starcatcher site

Starring: Christian Borle, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Adam Chanler-Berat, Kevn Del Aguila, Rick Holmes, Arnie Burton

My Review: Fun fact: Peter Pan was one of the first Broadway musicals I ever saw roughly 20 years ago (and it starred Cathy Rigby, who is currently playing the role again in a new national tour, which I suppose speaks more to what incredible shape she's in rather than proving that I am not getting old). It was never one of my favorite shows, but it always held a special place in my heart for being one of my earlier introductions to the wonderful world of live theater. So I was excited to check out this new Peter Pan theatrical experience, Peter and the Starcatcher.

Based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, Peter and the Starcatcher is the unauthorized origin story of Peter Pan. Father and daughter team Lord Aster and Molly are on a sea voyage with a trunk that is mysteriously referred to as "the Queen's treasure" (the Queen in this case being Victoria). Through a series of events, Lord Aster and Molly wind up on separate ships, one of which has the actual treasure trunk and the other equipped with a decoy. While taking an ill-advised tour of her ship, Molly stumbles upon a group of orphans who have been sold into slavery, one of which is a nervous, shy boy who has no name and simply goes by "Boy." Meanwhile, the flamboyant, yet feared, pirate Black Stache hears about the treasure and overtakes Lord Aster's ship with his band of followers, determined to steal the treasure for himself.

Unfortunately, the treasure is with Molly on her ship and isn't the gold and jewels the pirates have envisioned; it's a trunk full of "starstuff" that Molly and her father as starcatchers have collected. These magical remains of shooting stars hold great power and anyone who comes into contact with some of it will be turned into whatever they desire most. Since such magic would be dangerous if it fell into the wrong hands, Lord Aster is planning to destroy it once they reach their destination: The volcano Mt. JalapeƱo. Once Black Stache and his pirates destroy Molly's ship in an effort to get the treasure, the whole lot of them wind up on a desert island where Molly and the orphans scramble to protect the treasure while the pirates follow in hot pursuit.

While an enjoyable evening at the theater, I was surprised by how unexciting Peter and the Starcatcher was. Whether or not you're a fan of the original Peter Pan tale, I don't think anyone would ever accuse it of being dull. But the story of how Boy became Peter Pan left a lot to be desired. Part of the problem may be what a small part he plays. Molly is a far more central character and Black Stache steals the show from everyone whenever he appears. Boy is barely even a substantial character until the second Act when he is temporarily separated from the rest of his party. And when he is treated like an actual character, he's not a very interesting one.

Played by Adam Chanler-Berat, Boy is incredibly whiny and weak-willed, and while this is meant to be an origins story, it's hard to imagine how this sad, nervous boy has any potential to turn into the spirited, adventure-seeking Peter Pan. Celia Keenan-Bolger as Molly (whose put-upon childlike British accent goes from charming to grating in about three minutes) is far more interesting and exciting, though while the implication is that her influence rubs off on Boy, we never actually see that happen. We're just meant to assume that when Boy and Molly inevitably part ways, he'll grow to be more like her.

The true star of the show is Christian Borle as pirate captain Black Stache (a pre-hook Captain Hook). Borle has recently gained some more mainstream fame from the TV show Smash, but his roots are in the theater and he really gets to show what he does best in this role. He plays Black Stache as an over-the-top diva, but with an edge of instability, so he's unnerving enough to not be seen as a total joke. A master at physical comedy, Borle jumps, stomps, flails, and flops about the stage, energetically throwing himself into every ridiculous ploy Black Stache devises in order to steal the treasure.

Bottom Line: A play that doesn't really gain any steam until Act II, Peter and the Starcatcher is an origins story that has a lot of potential, but makes too many assumptions about where things will go from where its story ends and Peter Pan begins. Yes, Boy does learn to crow by the end, but no one really believes it.