Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

Peter and the Starcatcher
Walnut Street Theatre
Review by Rebecca Rendell | Season Schedule

Also see Cameron's recent review of An Octoroon and Rebecca's review of Two Trains Running

Michaela Shuchman and Brandon O'Rourke
Photo by Mark Garvin
A certain danger arises whenever an author attempts to write classic characters into new stories and circumstances. "Peter Pan" is particularly well loved and myriad attempts have already been made to re-imagine the story of the boy who never grew up since J.M. Barrie first put him on stage in 1904. Playwright Rick Elice wisely bases his "grownup's prequel to 'Peter Pan'" on Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson's spectacular children's book "Peter and the Starcatchers." Director Bill Van Horn's production at Walnut Street does justice to the iconic character, the book, and Elice's play which opened on Broadway as in 2012 to much critical acclaim and five Tony awards.

Peter and the Starcatcher is a fantastical comedy that tells the origin story of Peter Pan, Captain Hook and all things Neverland. It is also the story of 13-year-old Molly Aster (Michaela Shuchman), a starcatcher-in-training who travels the world adventuring with her father Lord Aster (Dan Hodge). Lord Aster is sailing to Rundoon on an urgent mission involving the mysterious contents of one ordinary looking trunk. A suspiciously similar looking trunk is traveling on another ship to Rundoon along with Molly and three orphan boys who are meant to become snake food. When trouble strikes it is up to Molly and her new friends, including the boy who will come to be called Peter (here called Boy), to save the day. Our heroes run into pirates, shipwrecks, mermaids, dangerous natives, and even a bit of star-stuff along the way. Brandon O'Rourke is an impeccable Boy and his performance reveals something about both the angst and exuberance of youth. Shuchman is charming as young Molly.

A great story needs a great villain and Ian Merrill Peakes is phenomenal as Black Stache, the nefarious pirate intent on stealing Lord Aster's treasure. Peakes is devilishly funny and his performance is a great boon to the production. There are a few other stand outs: Lindsay Smiling is excellent as the scabrous buccaneer Bill Slank; Nichalas L. Parker brings a raucous energy to the stage in a variety of roles including Sanchez and Fighting Prawn; and Matthew Mastronardi is endearing and funny in the role of Boy's bumbling friend Ted.

Although it is family friendly, Peter and the Starcatcher is definitely not a children's show. The play goes to some dark places (the flashback to the orphanage is particularly bleak) and some of the humor will fly over the heads of younger audience members. It does include the occasional witty turn of phrase, but most of that humor will make you groan after you giggle. Fortunately, even the silliest jokes (there are at least a dozen about Black Stache's 'stache) work in this lighthearted production.

Todd Edward Ivins' whimsical set stokes the imagination and facilitates some really clever staging. Dominic Chacon's lighting casts a magical spell on the stage. And costume designer Mary Folino has created the best Peter Pan costume this critic has ever seen.

What keeps the production from being spectacular is simply a lack of consistency. The story is captivating, but there a moments where the pace drags or the dialogue is hard to follow. The cast is mostly excellent, but there are a few performances that fall flat. Molly's nanny Mrs. Bumbrake (Dave Jadico) is basically a one trick pony that quickly becomes a dead horse. Smee's performance is so listless it can feel like Peakes is straining to act opposite a brick wall. There are lots of laughs, but also a number of places where is feels like humor has been reined in to keep things completely family friendly.

Despite these limitations, Bill Van Horn's production is a thoroughly delightful experience that should not be missed. Very funny, legitimately touching, and even a little insightful, Peter and the Starcatcher will capture your heart and take you on a most thrilling adventure.

Peter and the Starcatcher runs at the Walnut Street Theatre through May 1st, 2016. For tickets and information, call 215-574-3550 or 800-982-2787 or visit

Boy (Peter): Brandon O'Rourke
Prentiss: Davy Raphaely
Captain Scott: Alex Bechtel
Smee: Aaron Cromie
Molly Aster: Michaela Shuchman
Ted: Matthew Mastronardi
Lord Aster: Dan Hodge
Black Stache: Ian Merrill Peakes
Alf: David Bardeen
Sánchez/Fighting Prawn: Nichalas L. Parker
Bill Slank: Lindsay Smiling
Mrs. Bumbrake/Teacher: Dave Jadico
Grempkin/Mack/Hawking Clam: Jered Mclenigan

Director: Bill Van Horn
Scenic Design: Todd Edward Ivins
Costume Design: Mary Folino
Lighting Design: J. Dominic Chacon
Sound Design: Christopher Colucci
Musical Coordinator: Mark Yurkanin