Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Peter and the Starcatcher
Manatee Players
Review by William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's review of Blood Brothers

Alex Zickafoose and Brett McDowell
Photo by Brian Craft
Manatee Players is presenting Rick Elice's Peter and the Starcatcher at the Kiwanis Theatre in The Manatee Performing Arts Center. It is surprising that it has taken so long for this play to reach the Sarasota/Manatee County area. freeFall Theatre in St. Petersburg scored a big hit with it at Christmas time in 2015, with a repeat in repertory with Peter Pan the following year. This family friendly piece is delighting audiences everywhere it goes, providing the story of how the characters in Peter Pan got to be who they are. Manatee Players is experiencing the same reaction with a sold out opening weekend and strong sales that indicate more of the same for next week and weekend.

Peter and the Starcatcher is an ensemble piece; everyone in the cast with the exception of those cast as Peter and Molly play multiple roles. Director Cory Boyas and Manatee Players have fielded a very strong cast, each contributing to the excellence of the whole. Alex Zickafoose as Peter, later taking the surname Pan, is just about perfect with his mop of straggly hair in the front, big innocent eyes and gawkish manner. When Peter later decides to forgo growing up, it is because he has reached the exact time in his life time where he is most at ease with himself. Melanie Bierweiler is similarly ideal: 70 percent tomboy, 20 percent daddy's princess, 10 percent unsure, and completely 13 years old. She was lovely as Belle in Beauty and the Beast recently, and she inhabits Molly as if she were exactly like this a few short years ago.

Cory Woomert is Black Stache and several other roles. I am delighted to have watched Cory grow into a dependable leading performer. I don't think the scenery chewing Black Stache is his greatest role to date (that would be Leon Czolgosz in Assassins), but each role seems to stretch the man's talents. This is a performer who leaves the audience anticipating what he will do next. Noah Roderiques is hilarious as Smee, black glasses almost becoming a prop. His stage demeanor is charming, and carries to the other characters he plays throughout the evening. David Nields is Lord Aster, properly stern and commanding. His age and bearing define this character as inhabiting a different world than the rest of the characters, patrician. Brett McDowell as Peter's crony Prentiss has exactly the right amount of boyishness and he is one of the more nimble players in the ensemble when he has to step into other roles. In the mermaid scene that opens act two and which is a highlight of the show as it should be, I kept being drawn to Mr. McDowell's mermaid.

Judah Woomert shares the stage with his father as Peter's other crony, Ted. Young mister Woomert is exactly the right age to play this part, I think I remember being told he is 13. He also has grown up on stage in front of our eyes (Ralphie in A Christmas Story, Narrator in Into the Woods, and last fall a sensational Michael in Billy Elliot). Now his voice is clearer and I am able to understand him far better than before. Eldred Brown comes very close to stealing the show as Fighting Prawn, also doubling as Grempkin and two other roles. He is a great big guy, probably just a teddy bear when you get to know him. Joe Eckstein scores as Slank, captain of one of two ships that are an important part of the plot (such as it is, it breaks down to a loose series of vignettes in the second act) and Fighting Prawn's son Hawking Clam. Josh Roberson as Molly's nanny Bumbrake understands how men play women's roles in British pantomime and carries it off beautifully, not trying to be too convincing as an older woman. At freeFall they cast a woman in the part to produce an entirely different tone. Mr. Roberson's parents took me back to a sensational turn the young man did in Yank last year. All I can say is that young Mr. Roberson is very talented and I am certain he will likely grow more so. Griffyn Holcomb completes the ensemble as Captain Scott and Alf.

I saw a great deal of fault in director Cory Boyas' production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast at Christmas time, finding it very flat. Here Mr. Boyas, who before the previous production I was not that familiar with, completely redeems himself. This production is lively from start to finish. The storytelling, which I found very hard to follow at freeFall, is here much clearer. The production stays in focus as much as Mr. Elice's loose script would ever allow and, most importantly, every one of the cast is at the top of their game.

Bruce Ensinger is the fine pianist and music director. Ralph Nurmela has done top-notch work on a scenic design that provides lots of varying spaces to work in, Georgina Willmott provides costumes that have exactly the right level of whimsy for this piece, and Patrick Bedell's lighting design captures all the emotional moods of the story.

All of the productions in the smaller Kiwanis Theater are produced in association with a community organization, this time Guardian Angels of Southwest Florida who build and staff group foster homes for our area's children in need. I salute the work of this fine organization.

Hurry to get your tickets for Peter and the Starcatcher at Manatee Players. I have a feeling that all weekend performances are going to be SRO.

Manatee Players presents Peter and the Starcatcher at Manatee Center for the Performing Arts through April 23, 2017, at 502 3rd Ave W., Bradenton; 941-748-0111,

Cast: Boy/Peter: Alex Zickafoose
Molly Aster: Melanie Bierweiler
Black Stache: Cory Woomert
Smee: Noah Roderiques
Lord Aster: David Nields
Prentiss: Brett McDowell
Ted: Judah Woomert
Fighting Prawn/Grempkin/Sanchez/Mack: Eldred Brown
Slank/Hawking Clam: Joe Eckstein
Bumbrake/Teacher: Josh Roberson
Captain Scott/Alf: Griffyn Holcomb

Directed by Cory Boyas
Music Directed by Bruce Ensinger
Scenic Design by Ralph Nurmela
Lighting Design by Patrick Bedell
Costume Design by Georgina Willmott
Stage Management by Makenzie Vaughan
Sound Design by Tom Sell

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