Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Peter and the Starcatcher
Valley Youth Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's recent reviews of The Piano Lesson and Real Women Have Curves

The Cast
Photo by Jenny Kaufman/Xposed Capture Photography
One of the things I like best about live theatre is its powerful ability to tell a story and bring its characters and plot to life by having the audience use their imagination. Valley Youth Theatre's production of Peter and the Starcatcher does just that by using simple props, lush lighting, and fun sound effects, along with your imagination, to transport audiences on a whimsical journey filled with pirates, lost boys, adventure, imagination, and charm. Adapted from the beloved children's novel "Peter and the Starcatchers" (by Dave Berry and Ridley Pearson), this Tony-nominated play serves as a prequel to the iconic story of "Peter Pan," unraveling the origins of the beloved characters in a delightful and humorous manner. The production at Valley Youth Theatre features a wonderful cast and sharp and playful direction.

Written by Rick Elice, Peter and the Starcatcher shows us how an unnamed orphan became the famous boy who wouldn't grow up. The play not only gives us the backstory for how Peter Pan came to be and got his name, but also, humorously, shows us how Captain Hook lost his hand, how the crocodile got the clock in his belly, and how Tinkerbell came to life.

Staged on Broadway with an adult cast (that included only one woman), it's refreshing to see the play presented by an entire youth cast of both genders, with the older teen actors playing the adult roles and many individuals playing roles of the opposite sex. The large cast display remarkable versatility, seamlessly transitioning among multiple roles with ease under the assured guidance of director Mark Stoddard, and bring a wonderful sense of playfulness and an abundance of joy to the production.

Aiden Haren embodies the innocence and vulnerability of Peter, while Parker Pitt brings a spirited energy to her portrayal of the authoritative Molly, the girl who befriends Peter and sets him on his journey of self-discovery. Jaden Sparkman's take on the larger-than-life villain, Black Stache, is a crowd pleaser, as he relishes every comedic line of dialogue and scene he's in with complete gusto.

The supporting cast and ensemble shine with bright, spirited portrayals. James Nesbitt is appropriately mature and warm as Lord Aster, Molly's father. As Peter's fellow orphans, Ted and Prentiss, Rob Foley and Luca Grasso are bright, funny, and display a wonderful sense of youthful energy. William Lovell and Christopher Sean Devous are both hilarious and charming as Smee, Black Stache's right hand, and Molly's governess Mrs. Bumbrake, respectively. Donovan Denny, Tanner Osborne, Lucian Epling, Helen Nesbitt, Lucy Glow, Sierra Ricks, and Charlie Darling deliver rich performances of a variety of characters, and the ensemble all look like they are having a blast bringing this inventive tale to life.

The imaginative set design by Dori Brown, which features several playing levels made of wood planks, complemented by Tom Holberg's impressive lighting design and Morgan McCall's fun props, effectively transforms the stage into many dynamic and vibrant locations. From the sails of a ship to the depths of the ocean, the creative use of shadows, colors, fog, and simple but effective props and set pieces enhances the storytelling, inviting audience members to immerse themselves in the fantastical realm of the play. Karol Cooper's costume designs add a whimsical touch to the production, with an abundance of rich colors and fabrics that play up the intricacies of the larger-than-life characters. The music and songs by Wayne Barker, expertly executed by music director John Luke Osorio, along with fun sound and special effects performed by percussionist Jesse Winters, provide an enchanting and whimsical backdrop to the action on stage.

Peter and the Starcatcher is a testament to the power of imagination and storytelling. With its talented cast and sublime creative aspects, Valley Youth Theatre's production captures the essence of the play, delivering an inspired evening of theatrical magic that should resonate with audiences of all ages.

Peter and the Starcatcher runs through February 25, 2024, at Valley Youth Theatre, 525 North First Street, Phoenix AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or call 602 253-8188.

Director: Mark Stoddard
Music Director: John Luke Osorio
Choreography: Kathleen Brazie
Lighting Design: Tom Holberg
Set Design: Dori Brown
Costume and Make-Up Designer: Karol Cooper
Sound Design: Matthew Swanson
Props Master: Morgan McCall
Percussion/Foley EFX: Jesse Winters
Production Manager: Jonathan Furedy

Peter/Boy: Aiden Haren
Molly: Parker Pitt
Black Stache: Jaden Sparkman
Lord Aster: James Nesbitt
Captain Scott/Mermaid: Donovan Denny
Smee: William Lovell
Bill Slank/Mermaid/Mollusk: Tanner Osborne
Mrs. Bumbrake: Christopher Sean Devous
Alf: Helen Nesbitt
Ted: Rob Foley
Prentiss: Luca Grasso
Teacher/Storyteller: Lucy Glow
Mother Lullaby/Storyteller: Sierra Ricks
Fighting Prawn/Storyteller: Lucian Epling
Hawking Clam/Storyteller: Charlie Darling
Storytellers: Chase Carter, Jadyn Carter, Charlise Darling, Abby Fleming, Jayvin Sumler, Tayson Toledo