Before there was Tinker Bell, Captain Hook, or the “second star on the right,” there was a nameless, friendless orphan boy.
The Phoenix Theatre opens its season with the Tony Award-nominee Peter and the Starcatcher, a prequel to the well-known Peter Pan stories, which relates the origins of Peter and Neverland.
Set in the 1800s, 13-year-old Molly (Phebe Taylor) is trying to overcome the burden of being a smart girl in a man’s world. Her astute supportive father, Lord Leonard Aster (a dignified Paul Nicely), is a “starcatcher,” and she is a starcatcher in training. Starcatchers gather rare “star stuff,” the dust that remains from a falling star. The Asters board separate ships, accompanying identical trunks—one carrying the queen’s treasure and one containing what appears to be sand. Molly travels on board the Neverland, where she finds a trio of orphans who have been sold into slavery: “Boy” (Nathan Robbins, recently in Hand to God), Ted (Peter Scharbrough), and Prentiss (Tyler Ostrander). Of course, requisite pirates take control of both ships, and the Boy (Peter), who wants to be more than a nameless orphan, helps save the real treasure.
Bryan Fonseca directs a large cast, most of whom play multiple characters. Liberal use of choral speaking gives the play a poetic feeling. James Gross’s set is both sea-worthy and island-accessible, and Emily McGee’s costumes add the finishing time-period touch.
Taylor and Robbins pull a little too hard on childish affectations for my taste, but it is diluted by other intentionally over-the-top characters, such as the flamboyant, malapropism-inclined Captain Black Stache (Eric J. Olson, in a snort-worthy performance), and the tongue-in-cheek romance between Alf (Michael Hosp), a pirate, and Mrs. Bumbrake (John Vessels Jr.), Molly’s nanny. The very un-PC “Injuns” have been replaced with a less racially offensive tribe of islanders, which are led by Fighting Prawn (Ian Cruz, who also embraces the equally outlandish performance); he was an English kitchen slave while a boy, and consequently, after his escape, his vernacular is punctuated with a slew of dishes.
The show is heart-warming if occasionally bittersweet; however, if you are taking kids, note that even though there are singing mermaids, one short event is dark: Peter being caned. I was glad I didn’t take my 7-year-old.