Peter and the Starcatcher provides a backstory for the character Peter Pan, and serves as a prequel to J. M. Barrie's Peter and Wendy. The action begins in a bustling port of the British Empire. There, Lord Leonard Aster (Tom Wahl) is accompanied by his precocious daughter Molly (Abigail Berkowitz) and her nanny Mrs. Bumbrake (Thomas Jansen). Two identical trunks are delivered to the port. One of them contains a precious cargo belonging to the Queen, who has appointed Lord Aster as its custodian. He's to travel with the trunk aboard the Wasp (the fastest ship afloat) to the remote kingdom of Rundoon. The Wasp's captain is an old school chum of Lord Aster's named Captain Robert Falcon Scott (Liam Merkle). The other trunk is a decoy filled with sand which is to be be carried by an old and weather-beaten ship, The Neverland, captained by Bill Slank (Robert Fritz). Lord Aster has paid Slank to transport Molly and Mrs. Bumbrake aboard the Neverland to Rundoon as well.
Amidst the bustle of the port, the sinister Slank swaps the trunks so that the Queen's cargo is loaded aboard the Neverland and the identical sand-filled trunk is loaded onto the Wasp. Grempkin (Alejandro Gonzalez Del Pino), who is the schoolmaster of the St. Norbert's Orphanage for Lost Boys, sells three orphan boys named Ted (Timothy Boehm-Manion), Prentiss (Timothy Bell), and Boy (Joshua Jacobson) to Slank. Grempkin tells the boys they'll serve as helpers to the King of Rundoon, but Slank implies there is a more dangerous outcome in store for them. After realizing that there is no one who cares enough to speak for the orphans, Boy (later given the name Peter) proclaims that he hates grownups.
Aboard the Neverland, Molly tells the Boy about Starcatchers, a handful of people appointed by the Queen. Molly explains that a Starcatcher's primary duty to collect starstuff as it falls to earth and dispose of it in the world's hottest active volcano, Mount Jalapeno, which is on Rundoon. Though starstuff is magical, as it transforms everyone into a magnified version of whatever it is they wish to be, it can be very dangerous in the wrong hands. While she is a Junior Starcatcher, her father Lord Aster is the Starcatcher assigned to the secret mission of disposing of the starstuff. The British Lieutenant Greggors (Matt Sawalski), who has led Lord Aster aboard the Wasp, reveals to Lord Aster that his real name is Smee and the seamen are pirates. Captain Scott and Lord Astor are taken captive and Smee introduces their leader, who is the most feared pirate captain on the high seas, Black Stache (Nicholas Richberg). A storm lands them all on an island inhabited by a people called the Mollusks, complete with a giant crocodile. The trunk of starstuff has washed ashore the island transforming the lives of some of the characters and forever setting the stage for the beloved tale of Peter Pan.
This production of Peter and the Starcatcher is enchanting from start to finish. A play with music, delivered with creativity and the greatest of fun. There is a kind of silliness in the presentational style of some moments, reminiscent of children's theatre at its best. But, though this play is indeed family friendly, it is not children's theatre to be sure. It is magical, transformative theatredone joyously as it is meant to be done.
Scenic design during the first act places us on British docks and then aboard the ships themselves. The second act takes place on the island. The beautifully executed sets are worked well by the actors through careful direction. Lighting is particularly well done as we see shadows of ship riggings overhead and the soft ebb of waves at the foot of the stage. Costuming is fun, with splashes of silliness provided in the mermaid costumes in the second act. The sometimes campy and/or irreverent humor woven into the show is always handled with appropriate restraint so that it never runs away with the scene.
Though there are many strong performances in this production, special mention should be given of Abigail Berkowitz as Molly, Joshua Jacobson as Peter, Timothy Bell as Prentiss, and Timothy Boehm-Manion as Tedall of whom capture believable characters, have fairly solid dialect work, and remain engaged and engaging throughout their performances. Make no mistake, however, this production of Peter and the Starcatcher clearly belongs to Nicholas Richberg as the Black Stache. He is a fabulously flawed fop who milks every moment with his strong presence, physical humor, facial expressions, and comic timing. Falling just short of deliciously chewing the scenery, his performance is a crowning jewel in a truly wonderful production.
Peter and the Starcatcher appears through October 26, 2014, on the newly dedicated Susan Westfall Playwrights Stage of the Carnival Studio Theater at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, 1300 N. Biscayne Blvd., Miami, Florida. For information, or to purchase tickets, call 305-949-6722, or visit them online at www.arshtcenter.org.
The Adrienne Arsht Center is made possible by the public support of the Miami-Dade County Major and the Board of County Commissioners, the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs and the Cultural Affairs Council, and the Miami-Dade County Tourist Development Council. It also receives generous support from private and corporate contributions to the Performing Arts Center Foundation of Greater Miami through it's Membership Program, the City of Miami Omni Community Redevelopment Agency, the Dade Community Foundation, The MAP-Fund, the State of Florida, the Department of State, the Division of Cultural Affairs, the Florida Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The Arsht houses the 2,400 seat Sanford and Dolores Ziff Ballet Opera House, as well as the 2,200 seat John S. and James L. Knight Concert Hall, and the 300 seat Carnival Studio Theater.
*Indicates a member of Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States.