Story: In 19th century England, Lord Aster agrees to undergo a perilous journey in the service of Her Majesty, Queen Victoria: He will transport a cargo box filled with valuables to the exotic land of Rundoon aboard the Wasp, which is commanded by Aster’s boyhood chum, Robert Falcon Scott.
A second ship, the Neverland, is carrying a decoy crate under the helm of the sinister Bill Slank. Lord Aster’s daughter Molly, an apprentice starcatcher, and her nanny, Mrs. Bumbrake, are aboard the Neverland. Also on board are three orphan boys who are sold to the captain: Prentiss, Ted and a boy with no name.
Slank switches the crates so that the decoy is now on the Wasp, where Captain Scott has been imprisoned by Smee and the fearsome pirate, Black Stache. The latter is frustrated to learn there is no treasure in the crate and thus pursues the Neverland. Eventually, a battle ensues, with survivors making their way to a nearby island. The boy with no name, now called Peter, and his pals are captured by a native tribe called the Mollusks.
Molly and Lord Aster re-unite, Black Stache loses his right hand in an accident, Molly achieves full star catcher status, and Peter -- who has taken the name Peter Pan -- becomes permanently attached to the island after falling into the golden water of an underground lake, guided by a tiny beam of ‘starstuff.’ He stays an eternal youth, years later connecting with Molly’s own daughter, Wendy.
Highlights: In 2006, Dave Barry and St. Louisan Ridley Pearson wrote a fanciful novel that served as a ‘prequel’ to the story of Peter Pan, delving into the background of the boy who never grew up, along with Captain Hook, Smee, the crocodile and other elements of James M. Barrie’s classic story.
That novel became the basis of a play by Rick Elice that eventually opened Off-Broadway in 2011, moved to Broadway in 2012 and then back to Off-Broadway in 2013, finally closing in January of this year. It was nominated for nine Tony Awards and won five, including several technical ones. Jack Lane, managing director of Stages St. Louis, was among the show’s producers.
A national touring company brought Peter and the Star Catcher to St. Louis for a three-day performance last weekend at Peabody Opera House, where the opening-night audience cheered the versatile and talented cast.
Other Info: A dozen performers comprise the entire cast of Peter and the Star Catcher. They acquitted themselves nicely at the Peabody, led by Megan Stern, the lone female in the cast, who portrayed Molly with considerable pluck and feistiness.
John Sanders greatly enjoyed playing the villain in his guise as Black Stache, whose prominent upper-lip facial hair and grand elocution suitably serve as a reminder of the Captain Hook to follow. It should be noted, though, that Sanders’ prolonged bit chanting “Oh, my God” after he accidentally severs his right hand was entirely too long to the point of tedium.
In fact, it could be observed that Peter and the Star Catcher’s two-and-a-half-hour running time is about 45 minutes too much, especially considering the number of children in the audience. Fortunately, all of the players were in fine form, and technical aspects of the show are a delight as well.
Joey deBettencourt is serious and sincere as the Boy who would be Peter Pan, aided by Carl Howell as the wannabe leader Prentiss and Edward Tournier as the constantly starving Ted. Luke Smith was Black Stache’s unfortunately termed ‘right-hand man,’ Smee, and Nathan Hosner was the model of British upper class as Lord Aster.
Benjamin Schrader elicited plenty of laughs as Molly’s nanny, Mrs. Bumbrake; Jimonn Cole was the dastardly Slank; Lee Zarrett played Fighting Prawn, chief of the Mollusks and a refugee from English sovereignty ; Ian Michael Stuart played the noble Captain Scott; and Harter Clingman was amusing as well as Mrs. Bumbrake’s sailor paramour, Alf.
The musicians were cleverly situated in alcoves on either side of the stage, with music director and keyboardist Andy Grobengieser on one side and percussionist Jeremy Lowe on the other. Donyale Werle’s set design encouraged audience imagination to great effect with its ‘flying cats,’ ‘starstuff’ and other whimsical aspects that also worked in Jeff Croiter’s lighting. Fanciful costumes designed by Paloma Young, Darron West’s humorous sound design and Wayne Barker’s music further enhanced the production.
Roger Rees and Alex Timbers’ direction is consistent if not exactly brisk. Most of the audience enjoyed the production quite a bit more than I did. Most of us would agree, though, that Peter and the Star Catcher is imaginative, artistic and a jolly good story to boot, adding another chapter to the Peter Pan legend.
Play: Peter and the Star Catcher
Group: Touring Company
Venue: Peabody Opera House, 1400 Market Street
Dates: Run completed
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Jenny Anderson
Watch HEC-TV’s telecast of the second annual St. Louis Theater Circle Awards ceremony from COCA on Monday, March 17, 2014.