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Regional Reviews by Gil Benbrook

Peter and the Starcatcher
ASU Gammage

Also see Gil's reviews of 4000 Miles, Macbeth and My Son, the Waiter


Joey deBettencourt and Megan Stern
Peter and the Starcatcher is a new play by Rick Elice based on the children's novel "Peter and the Starcatchers" by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. After a successful Broadway run, where the show won five Tony Awards, the first national tour has landed in Tempe for a one-week run through Sunday, January 19th. A prequel to Peter Pan, Peter and the Starcatcher shows us how an unnamed orphan became the famous boy who wouldn't grow up. The play is a magical and theatrical show and the tour has a top notch ensemble cast led by John Sanders, Megan Stern and Joey deBettencourt as Peter.

Peter and the Starcatcher not only gives us the backstory for how Peter Pan came to be and got his name, but also shows us how Captain Hook lost his hand, how the crocodile got the clock in his belly, and how Tinkerbell came to life. It does all of this with a cast of only twelve, minimal sets and costumes, some flashlights, a large piece of rope, and the imagination of every audience member.

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 Rees playing the lead role, had minimal sets and required an audience to imagine. That same sense of expectation is at the core of Peter and the Starcatcher. Rick Elice has effectively crafted a play from the novel where the cast of 11 men and one woman portray what seems to be about 100 different characters. Fortunately, the imaginative set design by Donyale Werle, with a tattered show curtain and gold gilded proscenium that literally set the stage, 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. Paloma Young has created a series of costumes for the ensemble, with each of them wearing one basic outfit for the entire play and, with the simple addition of just one or two additional costume pieces, transforming into completely different characters. Werle, Croiter and Young all won well deserved Tony Awards for their work.

The three leads are quite effective, with Joey deBettencourt giving a simple and effective portrayal of a lost boy who, while na´ve and unsure of himself at first, becomes a natural leader, and Megan Stern as the spirited young girl who has no problem facing danger head on. Stern is feisty, authoritative and sweet, sometimes all at the same time, and has an impeccable English accent.

John Sanders has big shoes to fill, following Christian Borle's Tony Award-winning performance of Black Stache, the Captain Hook part. I'm glad to report that, while Sanders doesn't give a carbon copy version of Borle's performance, adding plenty of his own abilities to the role, he still succeeds smashingly. And while Sanders stays in the background for the first 30 minutes of the show playing various small parts as well as helping portray various set pieces (with the use of that piece of rope I mentioned before), once Black Stache appears, there is no stopping him. He wrings every nuance out of every small comic gag and when he gets his hand cut off he easily shows how to take just the phrase—"oh my God"—and an abundance of expressions to achieve comic genius. He also had no problem adlibbing at the opening night performance when his cut-off hand flew in the wrong direction and toward the audience, breaking the fourth wall and requiring Sanders to show us a bit of his pantomime skills.

The rest of the ensemble cast all have moments to shine, but I especially liked Benjamin Schrader who plays Stern's maid Mrs. Bumbrake and Luke Smith who plays Smee. They both bring the appropriate level of zaniness for this type of production along with a huge amount of charm. Nathan Hosner as Stern's father is also very effective in the staunch but loving and strong part of an English Lord. Carl Howell and Edward Tournier are funny as Peter's fellow two orphan friends who appropriately exhibit multiple traits from fear to courage and sarcasm, everything you'd expect from a pair of 13-year-old orphans. Particularly notable is Tournier's ability to wring humor from his character's constant hunger cravings, his obsession with pork, and his on-going efforts to eat a pineapple.

Peter and the Starcatcher includes music and a few songs written by Wayne Barker. The musical underscoring provides a nice and appropriate element, and the second act opening, which has all of the cast as singing mermaids in a vaudeville-inspired production number, is a big, colorful moment that gets a lot of laughs and applause from the audience.

The beginning of Peter and the Starcatcher is a bit muddy, with the cast already at a high level of delivery and providing a lot of information in a short amount of time, so it takes a few moments for the various components to gel into the magical experience that it truly becomes. It's too bad about this one small downside, as the beginning needs to hook the audience into the concept of the production instead of being quick and slightly unfocused. But that is only one small quibble in what truly is an inspired evening of theatrical magic.

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. I'm happy to report that the national tour is just as good as the Broadway production. Not only are the creative elements on par with Broadway but Rees and Timbers' direction and the ensemble of actors are top notch as well.

Peter and the Starcatcher runs through January 19th at ASU Gammage located at 1200 S. Forest Avenue in Tempe. For performance and ticket information, visit www.asugammage.com or by calling 480 965-3434. For more information on the tour, visit peterandthestarcatcher.com.

Written by Rick Elice
Based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
Directed by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers
Choreographer: Steven Hoggett
Music: Wayne Barker
Scenic Design: Donyale Werle
Lighting Design: Jeff Croiter
Sound Design: Darron L. West
Costume Design: Paloma Young
Cast:
Harter Clingman: Alf
Jimonn Cole: Slank
Joey deBettencourt: Boy
Nathan Hosner: Lord Aster
Carl Howell: Prentiss
John Sanders: Black Stache
Benjamin Schrader: Mrs. Bumbrake
Luke Smith: Smee
Megan Stern: Molly
Ian Michael Stuart: Captain Scott
Edward Tournier: Ted
Lee Zarrett: Fighting Prawn


Photo: Jenny Anderson

--Gil Benbrook


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