Friday, April 20, 2012

theatre review PETER AND THE STARCATCHER, Broadway, April 12

Peter and the Starcatcher is a new play based on the children's novel of the same name by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson.  After a successful Off Broadway run last year it opened on Broadway this past Sunday.  Telling the prestory to Peter Pan and how an unnamed orphan became to be the famous boy who wouldn't grow up, the play is a magical and theatrical show with a top notch ensemble cast led by Christian Borle, Celia Keenan-Bolger and Adam Chanler-Berat as Peter. 

Directed by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers, the play benefits from Rees' experience with the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Nicholas Nickleby. That show, which had an ensemble cast portraying dozens of characters with minimal sets required an audience to imagine.  And that same sense of expectation for an audience is at the core of Peter and the Statcatcher.  Playwright Rick Elice has effectively crafted a play from the novel where the cast of 11 men and one woman portray about 100 different characters.  Fortunately, the imaginative set design by Donyale Werle, superb lighting design from Jeff Croiter and some basic props also help the audience easily imagine everything from a ship's hold where Peter and his fellow orphans are kept to a giant crocodile's mouth. 

Christian Borle, Arnie Burton, Celia Keenan-Bolger
and Adam Chanler-Berat - note how a simple piece of
rope is used to portray a ship's confined drawing
room.  This is from early in the show before Borle
becomes "Black Stash".
 The three leads couldn't be better than they are with Adam Chanler-Berat giving a simple and effective portrayal of a lost boy who becomes a natural leader and Celia Keenan-Bolger as the spirited young girl who has no problem facing danger head on.  Bolger is giving a feisty performance. 

But it is Christian Borle who is the knockout here. I had heard about his performance being the one to watch and was a bit concerned since he stays in the background for the first 30 minutes of the show playing various small parts as well as helping portray various set pieces (see the pic on the left where he is holding a model boat and a piece of rope.)  However once his character of Black Stash (the Captain Hook part) appears there is no stopping Borle.  He is a perfect comic, ringing every nuance out of every small comic gag and when he gets his hand cut off it becomes a master class in how to make a few words and expressions achieve pure comic genius.  His is a performance that you will remember for a very long time.  It is nice to see Borle, who we've seen in several Broadway and Off Broadway shows having a great year- not only with his lead role on the tv show Smash, but now also with his performance in this play.

The rest of the ensemble cast all get moments to shine but I especially liked Arnie Burton who plays Keenan-Bolger's maid Mrs. Bumbrake and Kevin Del Aguila who plays Smee.  They both brought the appropriate level of zaniness required to this type of production.  Rick Holmes as Keenan-Bolger's father was also very effective in the staunch, more subdued part of an English Lord.

Kevin Del Aguilla and Christian Borle
Peter and the Starcatcher includes music and a few songs written by Wayne Barker.  The musical underscoring provides a nice and appropriate element to the production and the second act opening, which has all of the cast as singing mermaids, was a big highlight that got a lot of laughs and applause from the audience.

Now, like One Man,Two Guvnors, the beginning of Peter and the Starcatcher is also a bit muddy and takes a small amount of time for the various components to gel into the magical experience that it truly becomes.  It's too bad about this one small downside to this show as the beginning is what needs to hook the audience into the concept of the production instead of the slow and slightly unfocused beginning this production has.  There were even a few people who left within the first twenty minutes.  It's too bad they didn't stay as they not only missed Borle's genius moments but also all of the theatrical magic that comes as the show progresses as well as the somewhat emotional ending. 

I have to mention Jeff Croiter's lighting again as it is so expertly used and made me once again realize how effective lighting can be when used correctly. 

Peter Pan and most fairy tales require the person reading them to imagine and that sense of imagination is exactly what Peter and the Starcatcher is helping to bring to the theatre.  Highly recommended.

Official Show Site

Highlights from the show:

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