Peter and the Starcatcher is the most innovative, rollicking, sophisticated, silly, magnificent new show to come along in a very long time. A musical derivation of Peter Pan, this show simply soars. This is not a musical in the traditional sense. At most there are four songs, or songletttes. However, it is the best orchestrated show you may ever see. Musical punctuation is used at every turn and to great effect.
Before the house lights dim, the audience is tipped off to the treat in store. The proscenium arch of the Brooks Atkinson Theatre is subtly, yet garishly festooned for the show. Subtle, because the festooning is styled to blend into the theatre’s decor. Garish, well because it is. There are two musicians positioned in the boxes (left and right.) They are surrounded by percussion instruments of every variety (on the right) and keyboard, woodwind and magic soundboard (on the left.) Yes, there are only two musicians, but they are live and in full view! The other technical anomaly in play is the extremely judicious use of amplification. It is initially jarring, but the audience can in fact identify who is speaking by following the sound emanating from an actor’s mouth.
The play, by Rick Elice, is smart and funny and simply pun-tastic. The dialogue is rapid paced and plentiful. And smart. Directed by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers, with movement by Steven Hoggett, the wonderful cast is in essence a dance ensemble. The choreography of the show is simply staggering. There are no dance numbers. (A kick line performed by a shabby group of men dressed as mermaids, doesn’t count does it?) The movement in this show creates a magical world. Often with little more than a piece of string, artistic lighting (Jeff Croiter) and sound (Wayne Barker,) ideas become realized. Look it’s a ship, it’s a mirror, it’s a cabin, it’s a crocodile.
Despite it’s brilliance in design, this show would falter without a first-rate cast. The show teeters between slapstick and sincerity (in the best of ways) and in lesser hands, we would not see the extremes or worse, we would only see one extreme. This cast works as a seasoned ensemble. In a show as physical as this, a less unified cast could result in some injuries. While without this ensemble, there might not be this show; there are two actors who must be singled out. Celia Keenan-Bolger, who tore up the stage in City Center Encores! Merrily We Roll Along, is the glue that is Molly. Playing a 13-year-old bright feminist child with a good sense of humor (think Hermione Granger with a playful side) Ms. Keenan-Bolger has us in the palm of her diminutive hand. She stands her own even against the over-the-top (in the best of ways) Christian Borle as Black Stache. Mr. Borle’s performance can best be described by picturing a reality in which Ray Bolger and a young Tim Curry could create a biological child together. There are several extraordinary performances in this cast, but the roles of Molly and Black Stache are large and demanding and are served wonderfully by Mr. Borle and Ms. Keenan-Bolger.
This production is not cheap. It takes money to make something look plausibly shabby. But it is not excessive or lavish. There are no hydraulics or pulleys, yet there is plenty of flying. It takes buckets of creativity to do more with less than it does to throw money at things. Until I saw this show, it did not occur to me that you could simulate a bird flying away with four rubber gloves. I never would have imagined that simple pennants, presumably made of discarded bed sheets, could become a crocodile. There are dozens of these tiny moments that came from enormous amounts of creativity. These miniature moments, collectively add up to a Faberge Egg of theatre. While this is not a children’s show per se, seeing it would be a gift to any child. In a world where so much is made of so little, to see what little can be made with so much is a gift.