Review: Pioneer’s ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’ is a magical addition to the holiday season

First Published      Last Updated Dec 15 2014 02:01 pm

Review » Inventive production asks audiences to use their imaginations.

The delightful thing about the way children play is how spontaneous and improvisational they are. Don't have the props for games? No matter. A broomstick becomes a galloping horse. Mud shaped with a cookie cutter suddenly turns into pies and cakes.

That same sense of freedom and spirit of adventure are what make "Peter and the Starcatcher" such a special show. It not only asks us to remember what it was like to have the openness of a child, it demands that we use our imaginations to get to a place where everything is in a state of becoming. As Molly says of starstuff, "It makes you what you want to be."

Pioneer Theatre Company's production gets off to a muddy start but hits its stride in the second act, when the ensemble relax into their roles and slow down the line delivery. Everyone is going at such a fast clip during the first act that it's hard to catch the words, especially through the English accents.

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: 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? How do you become a leader? And why is that crocodile ticking?

The characters in "Peter and the Starcatcher" are looking for something. The orphan who becomes Peter is searching for a home where he "can just be a boy for a while." Motherless Molly wants to prove she is old enough to take responsibility and be respected by adults; she becomes a mother to the orphans. Black Stache, the poetic pirate, needs to find a hero to turn him into a memorable villain. "Without a hero, what am I?" he asks Peter. "Ruthless but toothless."

Director Jenn Thompson creates striking stage pictures: a crate full of boys hanging upside down and dropping out, Molly and her nanny crowded into a life preserver. Ladders on platforms become ships that spin and collide, rippling blue cloths are waves, and characters fight with plungers and umbrellas.

The show's dozen ensemble members move easily around the stage to tell the story. Perhaps because they have to concentrate on the action in the first act, their character distinctions become much sharper and funnier in Act II. Liam Forde's Boy is resourceful and inquisitive, gaining confidence as he meets challenges. Justine Salata's take-charge Molly is competitive, yet compassionate. Leo Ash Evens is outrageously flamboyant as the Black Stache, milking every comic moment. Austin Archer and Jake P. Evans are alternately supportive and silly as Boy's orphan companions, Prentiss and Ted. Oliver Wadsworth's prissy, alliteration-loving Betty Bumbrake finds her perfect match in Redge Palmer's overly attentive Alf, who leaves a definite impression wherever he goes. Jeff Gurner and Howard Kaye are hilariously inept as Fighting Prawn and Hawking Clam, the natives whose language is a pastiche of Italian dishes.

George Maxwell's stark first-act set transitions fluidly to the full moon and lusher vegetation of Act II. Michael Gilliam's spotlighting keeps our attention firmly focused, and Carol Wells-Day's costumes are rustically eclectic. Joshua Hight supplies an encyclopedic range of ship and island sounds. Patricia Wilcox's choreography in the mermaid number is clever and campy.

"Peter and the Starcatcher" is a refreshing jolt of theatrical magic in our commercial and cynical world. Its maxim, "To have faith is to have wings," invites us to re-examine our lives with the open eyes of a child.



Peter and the Starcatcher

After an uneven start, PTC’s “Peter and the Starcatcher” melds ingenuity and insight to re-create the improvisational energy and openness of the world of childhood.

When » Reviewed Dec. 5; plays Mondays through Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through Dec. 20, with Saturday matinees at 2 p.m.

Where » Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, 300 S. University St., Salt Lake City

Running time » Two hours and 15 minutes (including an intermission)

Tickets » $38 to $59 in advance; $5 more on the day of the show. Half-price for students K–12 on Mondays and Tuesdays; early-bird discounts for first seven shows. Call 801-581-6961 or visit www.pioneertheatre.org for tickets and information.

Holiday special » PTC and Zions Bank are collecting new gloves, mittens and socks of any size or color for the Road Home, YWCA and Volunteers of America to distribute to those who need them. Drop your donation off in the lobby at the performance.å