Saturday, April 21, 2012

Review: A Show Beyond Your Wildest Imagination

When we were younger, we were always told by our elders to “use our imagination.” So we did. We could make the littlest toy come to life. We could conjure up fantasies of intrigue and fascination. Our imagination was the key to our innocence. But as most of us grew to adulthood, our imagination seemed to dwindle as we were coming of age. What if I told you there was a two-hour piece of theater that allowed you to tap into the imagination that’s been tucked away and force you to smile from start to finish? Would you go? The answer should be yes. And you better believe you will not be disappointed with Peter and the Starcatcher.
After transferring from New York Theatre Workshop, Peter and the Starcatcher is back and better than ever. Retaining the majority of the original NYTW cast, the previous intimate setting has been expanded to a giant Broadway house, where the back of the mezzanine may not experience the same joy that the front of the orchestra will most definitely get. The story of Peter and the Starcatcher, based upon the novel of the same name, follows the adventures of two ships, the Wasp and the Neverland, as they both carry cargo, one sand, the other the coveted starstuff. On board these ships are the imaginative Molly Aster, the dastardly pirate Black Stache, and the one they call Boy. As the pirates take over the Wasp and learn that their treasure is not on board, a high speed chase with the Neverland smashes both ships on an island where mermaids and natives roam free. And now you’re asking yourself, how could this high-energy, multi-location tale be told? Through the beauty of your imagination. The cast of twelve uses ladders and ropes and toy ships and crates and even their own bodies to create the world. And they do it flawlessly. Under the sublime direction of Roger Rees and Alex Timbers, featuring a book by Rick Elice, the story is at its finest when we get clever sight gags and tumbling narration.
Now you must be asking yourself, who is this Peter that the title refers to? Like Wicked did for The Wizard of Oz, Peter and the Starcatcher is the unofficial origin story of Peter Pan. Audiences love prequels and sequels because they love putting pieces together about their beloved stories. So when you learn about how certain characters and events came to be, you can’t help but grin widely. At its core, Peter Pan is about a boy who doesn’t want to grow up and Starcatcher offers why, making it a loss of innocence story of sorts. If you didn’t relate to Peter Pan before, you certainly will now.
The ensemble, the majority of which play an assortment of wild and zany characters, is lead by three great performers, Christian Borle, Celia Keenan-Bolger, and Adam Chanler-Berat as Black Stache, Molly, and Boy respectively. Both Keenan-Bolger and Chanler-Berat play characters much younger than real life and sell it quite well. They both evoke an aura of innocence and naïveté that sell their characters. But it is Christan Borle’s show stopping, scenery chewing hilarity as Black Stache that keeps the audience falling out of their seats. It’s almost impossible to imagine any other actor that will ever match the brilliance that Borle brings to Black Stache. This is his role. I think it’s pretty safe that a seat will be saved for him at this year’s Tony Ceremonies. Other star performers in the ensemble include Greg Hildreth as Alf who has a show long romance with Arnie Burton’s high voiced and lovable Mrs. Bumbrake, Molly’s nana. It’s easy to point to the ensemble for making the show as great as it is, but it’s also easy to forget the magic and imagination stems from the innovative set designed by Donyale Werle. Without offering any spoilers, there is a clear scenic shift between act one and act two, and Werle’s set makes the shift quite seamlessly. Additionally, the musical underscoring and sound effects throughout the entire show make Peter and the Starcatcher what it is.
Rick Elice’s script, for the most part, is fast paced and witty, but does suffer a smidge in the much slower “heart to heart” scenes some of the characters have, specifically Chanler-Berat’s Boy. Yes, it’s important to the character arcs for these scenes to exist, but they generally slow the momentum from the previous high octane scenes. The only other moment, which I have disliked since seeing it at NYTW, is the act two opening mermaid shanty. Sure, it’s highly amusing to see the ensemble clad in Paoloma Young’s clever everyday item inspired mermaid costumes, but personally, I don’t see how it further benefits the story. I guess it’s better placed here than in the middle of the show where it literally would have stopped the flow.
Peter and the Starcatcher is a night at the theater where you’re allowed to drop all of your inhibitions and troubles and literally sit back, relax, and let your imagination take you on a wild ride. Most people wish they could become a kid again for just one day and Peter and the Starcatcher lets that happen. If you haven’t seen it yet, go now.