Peter and the Starcatcher, Palo Alto, CA
Cast members from TheatreWorks' "Peter and the Starcatcher"
© TheatreWorks. Photo by Kevin Berne

Peter and the Starcatcher, Palo Alto, CA

This ambitious endeavor melds to-the-hilt comic acting, brisk pacing, and imaginative scenic design in a crowd-pleasing rendition of the Broadway hit.

By Rick Elice

Based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

Music by Wayne Barker

Directed by Robert Kelley

Musical Direction by William Liberatore

TheatreWorks, Lucie Stern Theater, Palo Alto, Calif.

Dec. 3, 2014 – Jan. 3, 2015

With enough swash and buckle and bathroom humor to satisfy any kid and lots of double entendre and witty word-play for the grownups, Peter Pan and his crew flew back in town with a little something for everyone.

Silicon Valley’s TheatreWorks has mounted an inventive staging of the 2012 multi-Tony Award-winning Broadway hit, “Peter and the Starcatcher,” that compresses a sprawling world of ships, ocean and exotic island onto the small stage of the Lucie Stern Theater in Palo Alto. It sometimes spills over into the balconies and aisles to make room for itself and works its excellent cast to near exhaustion in double and triple roles but — you know what? — if you believe, it not only gets off the ground but occasionally soars to the heights.

Originally a book by “New Yorker” contributors Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, “Peter” was conceived as a prequel to J.M. Barrie’s beloved classic “Peter Pan.” The plot takes the unfortunate Boy (a taciturn but ultimately winning Tim Homsley), a nameless orphan, and two of his similarly hopeless (and hapless) mates from their miserable confines, over wild seas and onto the shores of Neverland, a semi-enchanted island where they can be free (and forever young). But don’t think they do it on their own. The real hero — or rather heroine — of this tale is an intrepid 13-year old feminist named Molly (a most accomplished Adrienne Walters), the Starcatcher of the title who will, in time, grow up to be the mother of Wendy, the little girl in the original book.

But not before she and the Lost Boys battle storms, shipwreck, fierce (if bumbling) pirates, savage islanders with a taste for Italian cooking and crooked, thieving sea captains. Chief among their enemies is the head pirate, Black Stache (Patrick Kelly Jones in the rollicking role that won a Tony for Christian Borle). Stache, so named for his impressive facial hair, is the other star of the show and Jones plays him to the hilarious hilt. He will, of course, after cutting off his own hand by mistake, become known as the nefarious Captain Hook. But, for the time being, he is a gay, vain romantic who spouts poetry and blusters about in a search for a worthy opponent — which he will find in the newly named Peter Pan.

But not until we get mermaids, enchanted “star stuff,” and a whole lot of laughs. One of the funniest characters is Molly’s lusty nanny, Mrs. Bumbrake, wonderfully overplayed by the cross-dressing Ron Campbell. Suzanne Grodner is outstanding as Stache’s yes-man, the pirate Smee. Also excellent are Cyril Jamal Cooper and Jeremy Kahn as the other orphans and Darren Bridgett as Molly’s stiff-upper-lip father, Lord Aster. And everybody else in all their many parts. TheatreWorks artistic director Robert Kelley manages to keep it all together and moving at a brisk, sometimes breakneck, pace.

Ersatz Victorian-era costumes are by B. Modern and the scenic design, almost a character in itself — although crowded at times — is Joe Ragey. William Liberatore is in charge of the music.
There are advantages and disadvantages to putting a big show on a small stage. The worst disadvantage is that it occasionally threatens to burst its seams and spill out into the street. The good part, however, is the cleverness and creativity that can be displayed in such an ambitious endeavor. Sometimes, when you reach for the stars, you actually catch a few.

Suzanne Weiss

San Francisco,
Suzanne Weiss has been writing about the arts for the past 35 years. Formerly Arts Editor for the papers of Pioneer Press in the northern Chicago suburban area, her work also has appeared in Stagebill and Crain’s Chicago Business, among other publications. Since moving to the Bay Area she has reviewed theater, opera, dance and the occasional film for the San Mateo Times, “J” and is a regular contributor to culturevulture. She is the author of “Glencoe, Queen of Suburbs.”