How did Peter Pan become the boy who never grew up? The story behind the beloved character’s magical journey to Neverland will be unveiled during the Broadway play Peter and the Starcatcher, running today through March 9 at Peabody Opera House. The five-time Tony Award-winning production, which also garnered a record-setting nine nominations in 2012, is the Broadway adaptation of the internationally popular book series, Peter and the Starcatchers, a prequel to J. M. Barrie's classic tale of Peter Pan. Author Ridley Pearson, who has called St. Louis home for the past 14 years and penned the series with author Dave Barry, recently told LN more about the book’s transformation from the page to the stage.
Take us back to the moment when the idea arose for Peter and the Starcatchers.
When my oldest daughter, who is now 17, was 5, I was reading Peter Pan to her while she sat on my lap. She put her hand across the book and asked, How did Peter Pan meet Captain Hook? A light bulb went off in my head, and I had a flood of other questions like Why could Peter Pan fly? and Where did Tinkerbell come from?
Talk about the process of turning the book into a Broadway play.
Disney Theatrical acquired the rights to the book. They envisioned it not as a standard Broadway musical, but as a quieter play with just a few songs. Rick Elice, of Jersey Boys fame, penned the play; and small performances were staged for Rick, Dave and me in the basement of a church in Manhattan. Then it was staged on Pages to Stages—a series of performances where you can workshop your play with an audience to critique it. It was rehearsed and performed every day for about 30 days. Rick rewrote it every night in his hotel room, and the actors learned it new each day. Then it moved to off Broadway and Broadway.
What can audiences expect from the play?
I can actually guarantee that you will see a form of theater you haven’t seen in at least a couple of decades. In an era where all of our technology pushes at us, and even theater has come to that with musicals, Peter and the Starcatcher draws you in and engages you, and makes you work in a way to make you figure out what is going on onstage. It’s remarkable. Whether you like it or not, you will leave glad that you had the experience.
Tell us about the production’s stars.
From the La Jolla, Calif., show on, off and on Broadway, it has maintained almost the same cast the entire way. By the time it’s in St. Louis, they will have completed 140 performances of it together. They have it down. These guys nail it.
Do you have a favorite scene?
Everyone and their uncle and anybody who can breathe is going to cite the opening of the second act as their favorite—it’s a given. I really believe that it will go down as a classic moment in theater. It’s just that good. The scene I still get really moved by is an ensemble moment at the end of the first act. There are some terrifying scenes set in a storm, and then the entire cast launches into song; it’s a wonderful, spirited, emotive piece of music called Sail On. I still get chills every time I see it. And now that I know the song, I find myself singing along.
Describe your experience watching the play.
I have seen it 26 times—in New York, Denver, Washington, on and off Broadway—and I love the thing. Rick Elice wrote this charming and substantially funny piece. The jokes are at an adult level—kids 10 and up will get a lot of the humor, and ages 15 and up will get even more. It still gives me chills when I either hear a character we created or see a scene somewhat like what Dave and I created. It’s hard to describe the tingles that you get. It’s such an honor to have your piece translated to the stage. Every performance is new each night: You see an adult crying from laughter, or a kid pulling on a parent’s sleeve and you know they’re saying, I remember that from the book!
Will you be seeing it in St. Louis?
Oh, I’m going! It’s incredibly special to me. I wrote Peter and the Starcathers in a house in Kirkwood, so it will forever mean St. Louis to me. The series has gone on to be a big international bestseller and still sells millions every year—it has a great place in my St. Louis heart. For me to be able to share it with what I now call my hometown is very special to me. Anybody who gets a book turned into a play is doing back-flips. But this one is really, really good. I’m so lucky.
What is it about Peter Pan that continues to fascinate people?
It’s a piece that appeals to our sense of wonder, our sense of independence and our sense of moving from puberty to adulthood. It taps into so many of those fundamental desires that we hold all our lives: to not grow up, to be free and have flight, to have fun, but also have purpose. It hits a lot of notes that tap into the human spirit. Every now and then, an author hits all the right notes, and J.M. Barrie got it right.
Peter and the Starcatcher
WHEN: March 7-9
WHERE: Peabody Opera House
INFO AND TICKETS: 800-745-3000 or peabodyoperahouse.com