Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Peter and the Starcatcher
Grand Canyon University
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of Singin' in the Rain, in Concert, Miracle on 34th Street: The Musical, Elf The Musical

Isaac O'Farrell (top), McKenna Kollman (front right),
and Cast

Photo by Tim Trumble
One of the things I like most about live theatre is that it can provide an immediate connection between the actors and the audience that both inspires and entertains. It can also take an audience on a journey to a different time and place if they simply use their sense of imagination. Peter and the Starcatcher is a play that achieves all of these possibilities. Grand Canyon University College of Fine Arts and Production recently presented this Tony-nominated Best Play with a sublime cast and spot-on direction that allowed the audience's imagination to soar.

Written by Rick Elice and based on the children's novel of the same name by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, this prequel to "Peter Pan" shows us how an unnamed orphan became the famous boy who wouldn't grow up. It 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.

Directed by Michael Kary, and with a cast and creative team composed entirely of students, the production featured GCU's talented cast playing multiple parts with ease, including several who humorously portrayed roles of the opposite sex. The production used minimal sets with just a few pieces of rope, some planks of wood, some scaffolding, and a few prop pieces, along with the imagination of every audience member, to bring the story vibrantly to life.

The three leads were exceptional. Isaac O'Farrell evoked a beautiful sense of a lost boy who was both naïve and unsure of himself at first but blossoms throughout the piece to become a natural leader. With an impeccable English accent, McKenna Kollman was appropriately bossy, spirited, feisty, and completely sure of herself as the young authoritative girl who befriends Peter and his fellow lost boys and who has no problem facing danger head on. As Black Stache, the Captain Hook equivalent, Megan Sutton had a blast wringing every nuance from every small comic gag and appeared to relish playing this larger than life villain.

In supporting parts, Brandon Brown and Mackenzie Reppy were full of childlike fascination, fear, courage and humor as Peter's fellow two orphan friends, Prentiss and Ted. Both Ryan Ardelt, who played Molly's maid Mrs. Bumbrake, and Devin Erwert, who played Black Stache's right hand Smee, were appropriately humorous and charming. Micah Larsen infused the part of Molly's father, Lord Aster, with an abundance of love and strength, and Emily Sheppard was quite touching, and fun, as Teacher, a mermaid who imparts some words of wisdom.

The simple yet highly imaginative set design by Keeli Rodriguez featured large pieces of tarp suggestive of the sails of a ship, which were used to effectively display some shadow imagery through projections, plus a few other small set elements that, in combination with the lighting design by Rachel Schumacher, were simply superb in the use of shadows and vibrant colors, beautifully suggesting the many locales in the show. Costume designer Trustin Adams created some evocative clothing, including hilarious and exceptional mermaid designs. Peter and the Starcatcher includes music and a few songs written by Wayne Barker which music director Melissa Landes and the small band delivered expertly.

While Peter and the Starcatcher is a very good play, it does run a bit long and the opening is a somewhat muddy and unfocused, which can make it confusing at first. Also, GCU opted to downplay a moment in the second act when Black Stache loses his hand that other productions that I've seen have turned into a classic and comical vaudevillian moment. While that didn't detract from the production, and if you've never seen this show you wouldn't have noticed its omission, I still felt it was a shortcoming.

When you read a book that is set in a fantasy world, it requires you to use your imagination. Peter and the Starcatcher is a beautiful play that allows an audience's imagination to become almost a supporting character and, with a talented cast and sublime creative aspects, GCU's production was an inspired evening of theatrical magic.

Peter and the Starcatcher ran November 16 - 25, 2018, at Grand Canyon University's Ethington Theatre, 3300 W. Camelback Road, Phoenix AZ. Ticket and performance information for their upcoming productions can be found at or by calling 602-639-8880.

Director / Fight Choreographer: Michael Kary
Music Director: Melissa Landes
Scenic Designer: Keeli Rodriguez
Properties Designer: Tu Nguyen
Lighting Designer: Rachel Schumacher
Costume Designer: Trustin Adams
Hair and Makeup Designers: Christen McGrath
Sound Designer: Lizzy Norton

Peter: Isaac O'Farrell
Molly: McKenna Kollman
Black Stache: Megan Sutton
Smee: Devin Erwert
Prentiss: Brandon Brown
Ted: Mackenzie Reppy
Aster: Micah Larsen
Mrs.Bumbrake: Ryan Ardelt
Teacher: Emily Sheppard
Grempkin: Christian Bradford
Slank: Kaleb Burris
Scott: Alex Cavanaugh
Ludwig: Joel Segraves
Fighting Prawn: Christina McSheffrey
Hawking Clam: Gavin Harris
Mack: Michael Massone
Cheese: Sam Brown
Alf: Jessica Rumrill
Lefty: Tyler Sorrels

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