Matthew Byron Cassi as Mrs. Bumbrake and Maggie Tonra as Molly
Kailyr Frazier as Boy
Photos: Allison Cornwell
May 11, 2017
There are times when a playgoer wishes for a remote control to pause or rewind and playback something that is downright incomprehensible. For this observer, that was often true during the performance of Rick Elice’s Peter and the Starcatcher (2012), now being staged at the Sheldon Vexler Theatre. Like the 2004 children's novel by humorist Dave Barry and suspense writer Ridley Pearson on which it is based, the script is crammed with quick, busy vignettes and lots of verbal whimsy.
Directors Tammy Kai and Ken Frazier
have spearheaded an unfailingly
creative production, brimming with
clever bits. But the pace is so
hair-blown-back speedy that much of
that inventiveness whizzes by before
it can be fully seen or heard, not to
The piece is a Peter Pan prequel
addressing the events and characters
behind J. M. Barrie's famous boy who
refused to grow up. Set up as a play
with music (as opposed to musicals
such as Finding Neverland), its few
songs are delightful and provide
welcome speed bumps.
The best and funniest is “Mermaid
Outta Me,” sung by the full ensemble done up by costume designer Tami Kai as bewigged mermaids with all manner of shells and sea critters used as bikini tops.
The 14 versatile cast members take multiple roles, not only as pirates or island natives or individual characters, but also as narrators or inanimate things such as squeaking doors or a rope rectangle framing comical wordplay: Fight announcer: “Shake hands and come out rhyming.” The wacky staging is reminiscent of vaudeville skits or British pantomime, only much brisker.
When we first meet Peter (Kailyr Frazier), he is a nameless orphan, one of three “lost boys” who are sold to the sleazy captain of a boat named Neverland, put in a wooden crate and sent to a far-off land. A pirate ship carrying a similar crate is captained by Black Stache, a pompous, dastardly fellow given to serious malapropisms and destined to become Captain Hook. John Stillwaggon is hilarious in the role, matched to perfection by John D. Boyd as his cohort and fixer of his mangled verbiage, Smee.
Smart, independent 13 year-old Molly Aster (Maggie Tonra) is a passenger and apprentice starcatcher who collects sandy, magical bits of fallen stars known as “starstuff.” She enjoys telling bedtime stories to the lost boys and is destined to become the mother of Wendy. Another zany character is her overprotective nanny, Betty Bumbrake, played by bearded Matthew Byron Cassi. His/her eventually hooking up with Alf (Michael Cooling) is just too much.
The secret to Peter's miraculous transformation is his falling into a pool of “starstuff,” which allows wishes to come true. His plan was to avoid adulthood only temporarily, but we know what happened to him.
Some of the script's funniest lines involve puns or unexpected turns of phrase: “elusive as the melody in a Philip Glass opera” or “We're no ruffians, we've never even been to Ruffia.”
Ken Frazier's simple, clever set design centers on a sturdy raised platform topped by pianist/ music director Jaime Ramirez and percussionist Eric Peterson and their instruments, with most entrances and exits made through a passage beneath them. The backdrop is a colorbook-style jungle with other elements such as stairs or ship's gear being movable. The crocodile is basically a wire frame with two bright lights for eyes.
In all, the production is cheerful and the script is a linguistic romp. Just be prepared to pay attention.
Peter and the Starcatcher runs through through June 4 (no show June 1) in the Sheldon Vexler Theatre at the Jewish Community Center. Call 302-6835.
Sheldon Vexler Theatre: Peter and the Starcatcher, by Rick Elice
Child is father to the, uh, boy