By Heidi Sutton
We’re all familiar with J.M. Barrie’s beloved story of “Peter Pan” about the wonderful adventures of a young boy who can fly and never grows up. The bedtime story filled our dreams with fairies, pirates, Indians, mermaids and who can forget Nana, the Darling’s St. Bernard. Many of us remember Disney’s 1953 animated version with great fondness.
But have you ever wondered how Peter Pan came to fly, why he lives on Neverland, how Captain Hook really lost his hand, how the crocodile came to swallow a clock and why he’s so big? Have you puzzled over where Wendy’s brother John got that top hat, why Peter and Captain Hook are bitter enemies and why Peter Pan came to visit the Darling family in London in the first place?
“Peter and the Starcatcher,” which opened last Saturday at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, answers all these burning questions and more. Billed as a prequel to “Peter Pan,” the Tony award-winning musical written by Rick Elice and based on the children’s novel “Peter and the Starcatchers” by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, catches up with Peter right before he becomes Pan.
Best suited for ages 10 and above, the hilarious, yet sometimes confusing, production invites the audience into an imaginary world where ropes represent walls, people stand in for squeaky doors and pirates fight with plungers and broom handles instead of swords.
Ken Washington brilliantly directs a multitalented 12-member cast, each playing multiple roles (over 100) throughout the show with boundless energy and harmony, effectively moving from one character and stage position to another to tell the story.
On orders of the Queen, two ships, The Neverland and The Wasp and their crews are bound for the Kingdom of Rundoon, each carrying identical trunks — one containing precious “star stuff” and the other filled with sand to distract pirates. Joining the crews on their mission is 13-year-old Molly Aster (the future Mrs. Darling) who is studying to be a “starcatcher” under the direction of her father, Lord Leonard Aster, and three young orphan boys — Peter, Ted and Prentiss — who are to be sold into slavery. When The Wasp turns out to be a pirate ship led by a pre-Hook Black Stache, Molly’s father is captured, leaving Molly and Peter to make sure the pirates never get their hands on the treasure, which has magical powers.
David Gow is terrific as Peter the orphan who, with a little nurturing from Molly (played by the wonderful Emma Geer) comes out of his shell and saves the day. Peter’s friends, Ted and Prentiss (Louis Brady and Matt Paredi,) compliment each other perfectly; one obsessed with being the leader and the other with food, especially pork.
While the entire cast delivers top-notch performances, it is Ryan Nolin, as Black Stache, who steals the show with his flamboyant and over-the-top performance in every scene, made possible only by his sidekick Smee, played by Rick Grossman. When he loses his hand, Black Stache asks Smee, “What do I do now?” “I’m stumped sir,” is the reply. Special mention should be made of Jordan Hue’s spirited performance in the role of Fighting Prawn, leader of the Mollusk tribe.
Washington perhaps describes the show best in his director’s notes: ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’ … begins with a mob of actors center stage, a community waiting to happen, and we end with those same people, back with a purpose … we know it’s the beginning of something. It is that collective strength and community purpose that I hope you’ll remember. It’s what this play is all about, but it’s also what all theatre is, why we love it and need it so.”
The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown will present “Peter and the Starcatcher” through Feb. 25. Tickets are $35 adults, $32 seniors, $20 students. To order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.