AWAY TO NEVER-NEVER LAND: “PETER AND THE STARCATCHER”

The Hippodrome Theatre and the University of Florida School of Theatre and Dance opened the much-honored and Tony Award winning play “Peter and the Starcatcher” on September 4, 2015. The show will be onstage in downtown Gainesville through September 27 and is very popular, so reserve early at 352-375-4477 or visit thehipp.org.

  1. M Barrie’s classic children’s story about Peter Pan is well known to many. Barrie’s work debuted as a play on the London stage in 1904; a novel published in 1911 followed. Adaptations have included multiple films, television productions and plays, notably an animated 1953 Disney film, and a 1954 Broadway musical starring Mary Martin.

Ever wonder how Peter Pan wound up in Neverland? Or how Captain Hook became Peter’s adversary? Well, in 2004, Pulitzer Prize winning author Dave Barry and novelist Ridley Pearson wrote a novel that takes us back to Peter’s life before the Lost Boys and before he flew through the window of a London townhouse while looking for his shadow. Playwright Rick Elice adapted it for the stage, Wayne Barker added some music, and a unique play with music was born and became a smash hit.

peter04Why has Starcatcher become such a hit? It showcases a style of theatrical storytelling that is rarely done. Instead of fancy sets, you see mainly a bare stage with a portion of a sailing ship from the 1800s, filled with ropes, riggings, ladders, two wooden chests, and a dozen extremely talented actors who tell this fabulous story with all kinds of physical and verbal humor. This is a play with music, rather than a true musical; Act One has five short songs, while Act Two opens with all the eleven men in the cast singing and dancing while dressed in drag as mermaids (which alone is worth the price of admission).

peter02What sets this show apart from others is the magic of imagination. The actors are engaging, as they tell their story using interesting props, like a stuffed gray cat and a large crocodile, exaggerated gestures, witty retorts, and athletic maneuvers. As audience members, we were at first confused by the style, but quickly caught on and immersed ourselves in the unfolding action.

The story is that of a homeless and nameless orphan who becomes Peter Pan (Niall McGinty). Before this transformation, we are taken on an ocean voyage on a ship carrying treasures, and we will experience a shipwreck and a skirmish with colorful island natives.

We encounter many winning characters, like the Lost Boys, spirited thirteen-year-old Molly (brilliantly played by Marissa Toogood), and of course, the Black Stache, the pirate dandy destined to become Captain Hook. His mustached portrayal by David Patrick Ford is a tour de force.

peter01Another performance that was a crowd favorite was Bryan Mercer as Mrs. Bumbrake, who got a laugh every time he as she opened her mouth.

The costumes by Alyssa Couturier were colorful and appropriate, and we definitely loved the mermaid outfits. And kudos to the Light Design by Robert P. Robins and the Scenic Design by Mihai Ciupe.

There were a number of children in the full house Sunday matinee we attended, and they seemed mesmerized by the fast-paced action on stage. Some of the puns and other humor may have gone over their heads, but the diverse adult audience certainly enjoyed them.

We don’t want to give away too much of this exciting adventure but we guarantee you will laugh. You will also learn how Peter Pan got his name and how Captain Hook lost his hand, at least as these events were imagined by Barry and Ridley.

We know several North Florida residents who went to New York to see this play and then raved about it, and we are sure you will thoroughly enjoy this production filled with inventive stagecraft. So take a trip back to 1885 and sail the seas with “Peter and the Starcatcher.” The Hipp’s version was directed with a dash of true genius by Lauren Caldwell who has a remarkable cast that includes: Jason David Collins, Wesley Huffman, Jake Lesh, Matthew Lindsay, Orlando Mendez, Charlie Mitchell, Andrew Quimby and Logan Wolfe.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.