REVIEW: Peter and the Starcatcher

When I last saw "Peter and the Starcatcher" at NYTW, it had two things going for it: 
  1. The handmade-style theatricalism (someone's fist represents a doorknob, a flying cat is obviously on a fishing pole) that felt sweetly at home in its off-Broadway setting
  2. Christian Borle as the pirate "Black Stache".
The second of these two was actually out filming the pilot for Smash when I saw it off-Broadway.  Regardless, I had loved this Off-Broadway prequel to Peter Pan and although I still recommend after the uptown move (particularly with Borle back), the Brooks Atkinson Theatre unfortunately doesn't have the intimacy that this play deserves.
The plot: Peter Pan (Adam Chanler-Berat), an orphan without a name at play's start, is on a ship to be sold into slavery when he crosses paths with young Molly (Celia Keenan-Bolger at her finest), who is studying under her father to become a "Starcatcher".  A Starcatcher is one whose job is to make sure that "Starstuff" doesn't fall into the wrong hands, and of course a pre-Hook "Captain Blackstache" and his crew are after a trunk of the magic `stuff.  With Molly's father captured, it falls to her and the nameless orphan to make sure the pirates never acquire this strange power.

In the hands of directors Roger Rees and Alex Timbers, "Peter and the Starcatcher" harbors a wonderful theatricality and imagination in the way people fly, crawl through pirate ships, and encounter giant crocodiles.  The show is very funny--particularly anytime Borle is onstage--and the pace is fast and furious with throwaway lines that whizz right by you, almost as if the entire story is being improvised by a troupe that has been working together for years.  

The downside in this bigger venue is that with such a breakneck pace, the audience is too busy laughing at the previous sightgag to catch the next joke or important narrative plotpoint. Puns about Lost Boys and lines explaining which ship which characters are on eluded me, in ways they didn't off-Broadway.  It's partially because Starcatcher is not actually a musical so the cast isn't miked and perhaps should be.  But really, it feels like Rees and Timbers never seemed to inform their wonderful cast that they need to pause for laughter or emphasis, to slow down and savor some of the moments as they wait for the echo of Rick Elice's sharp lines to hit the back of the larger-than-NYTW Theatre.  Hopefully this improves in time.

Elice's script, by the way, has in fact improved since we last saw it.  Gone are most of the cheap pop-culture references and devices from Off-Broadway that seemed to belong in a different play altogether, and the "breaking the fourth wall" moments now seem rightly centered around Borle's character.  And while I found Act 2 less exciting last time, this time around I actually liked Act 2 better than Act 1 for reasons I can't explain (I'm not even sure if anything in Act 2 changed, although the Mollusk plotline felt less static this time).  

Either way, I still recommend Peter and the Starcatcher as one of the better things on Broadway right now.

By the way, somewhere in Act I when the crossdressing Nana arrived onstage, I realized that the show is actually a pantomime, which is much more of a British Tradition that we Americans tend to shy away from.  So many of the conventions fit: a recognizable story, an older woman played by a man in drag, an occasional double entendre, breaking the fourth wall, a bit of song and dance, slapstick comedy, and a chorus with multiple roles who actually have as much stage-time as the leads.  Christian Borle even plays the central villain role like they cast a celebrity, which he probably isn't yet.  So I wonder, when this inevitably makes its way across the pond, will Brits appreciate it more than we do, or find it to be old-hat?


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