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Theater review: Shakespeare Festival's 'Peter and the Starcatcher' full of fantasy and fun

Published July 10, 2013 11:18 am

Utah Shakespeare Festival • Production invites audiences to use their imagination.
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Cedar City • "Peter and the Starcatcher" is an intriguing theatrical hybrid: fantasy with a veneer of social commentary; an archetypal story embellished with mod cultural references; an adventure tale with philosophical overtones.

It creates a world where a campy vaudeville number like the mermaid song at the top of Act II can comfortably coexist with observations like "things are only worth what you're willing to pay for them"; where the only way you can become an adult is to experience what it means to be a child; where "When I was a boy, I wished I could fly" evolves into "To have faith is to have wings."

Above all, "Peter and the Starcatcher" is imaginative. It invites us into a place where believing is not seeing; where adversaries fight with brooms, plungers and umbrellas; where a rope defines the dimensions of a ship. The show is making its regional premiere at the Utah Shakespeare Festival in a well-paced, creative production directed by Brian Vaughn.

Rick Elice's play, based on Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson's popular novel, relates the backstory of James M. Barrie's beloved classic "Peter Pan" and answers crucial questions such as: How did Peter get his name? How did the Black Stache lose his hand and become Captain Hook? Where did Tinker Bell come from? What is starstuff and what does it do? What is a leader and how do you become one? And how come that crocodile is ticking?

Like many people who take voyages, the characters in "Peter and the Starcatcher" are looking for something. The orphan who becomes Peter is searching for somewhere to belong, a home where he "can just be a boy for a while." Young motherless Molly wants to prove she is old enough to take responsibility and be respected by adults. For her, this adventure becomes "the thing we did against impossible odds." Black Stache, the poetic pirate, needs to find a hero to turn him into a complete villain. "Time will be our treasure," he tells Peter. "We'll fight until eternity."

The show's 12-member ensemble slides easily from one character and stage position to another to tell the story. Rhett Guter's Boy is stubborn and inquisitive, gradually gaining confidence as he meets new challenges. Betsy Mugavero is the perfect child-woman: spontaneous and resilient but wise beyond her years. Chris Klopatek and Matt Zambrano are stalwart and funny as Boy's orphan companions, Prentiss and Ted, one obsessed with being the leader and the other with food. As the Black Stache, Quinn Mattfeld comes close to stealing the show. His flamboyant performance takes shameless advantage of every comic opportunity. Aaron Galligan-Stierle's Smee is the Hardy to his Laurel, the consummate comic collaborator. Matt Mueller is simpering and silly as Mrs. Bumbrake, Molly's alliteration-loving nanny. Larry Bull, Christopher Ellis, Redge Palmer, Drew Shirley and Chris Amos make up the rest of the versatile acting troupe.

Samuel Clein and Jonathan Nathan provide lively musical accompaniment, and set designer Jo Winiarski cleverly hides them in the prows of two huge hanging boats. Jaymi Lee Smith's lighting is dark and atmospheric, and Kevin Copenhaver's garish, eclectic costumes look as if he raided a thrift shop. Rhett Guter's choreography is cute and kitschy, and Barry Funderburg supplies an encyclopedia of strange sounds.

Director Vaughn perhaps describes the show best in his director's notes: " 'Peter and the Starcatcher' is about … every one of us who has ever wondered what it would be like to be a child again, to fly, to fight pirates, to talk to fairies, to fall in love, to be a hero or to escape the darkness of our own reality through the power of faith, friendship and possibility."

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Review: 'Peter and the Starcatcher'

With the aid of a well-matched ensemble, director Brian Vaughn serves a magical and moving prelude to the beloved classic "Peter Pan."

When • Reviewed on July 6; continues in rotating repertory with two other productions Mondays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and afternoons at 2 through Aug. 31; Tuesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and afternoons at 2 from Sept. 24 to Oct. 18; and Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 6-20.

Where • Randall Jones Theatre at the Utah Shakespeare Festival on the campus of Southern Utah University, 300 West and Center Street, Cedar City.

Tickets • $31 to $72 with discounts for groups, students, and seniors. Tickets and information available at (800) PLAYTIX (752-9849) or http://www.bard.org.

Running time • Two and a half hours (including an intermission).