Theater & Dance
Review
"Peter and the Starcatcher"

By: Rick Elice, based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
Produced by: Hillbarn Theatre and investment producers Lisa and Matthew Wolfklain
Directed by: Jeffrey Lo
Choreographed by: Lee Ann Payne
Music direction by: Kimberly Mohne Hill
Featuring: Tasi Alabastro, Lawrence-Michael Arias, David Blackburn, Nicole Bruno, Dan Demers, Wes Gabrillo, Sean Okuniewicz, Heather Orth, Brittany Maria Pisoni, Drew Reitz, Scott Solomon, Will Springhorn Jr., Adrienne Kaori Walters
Running time: 150 minutes minutes, one intermission
When: January 18 through February 4, 2018
Where: Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 East Hillsdale Boulevard, Foster City
Tickets: $28-$52; call 650-349-6411, extension 2, or visit www.hillbarntheatre.org.

cast
Mark and Tracy Photography
Preparing for battle at sea in "Peter and the Starcatcher," on the playground at Hillbarn Theatre. From left in front are Brittany Marie Pisoni, Tasi Alabastro and Adrienne Kaori Walters. In back are Sean Okuniewicz, Lawrence-Michael Arias and David Blackburn. The show runs January 18 through February 4, 2018.
The hilarious, glorious starstuff
doesn't always shine brightly
'Peter and the Starcatcher' is only partly successful,
despite a mostly great cast and mostly funny script
January 22, 2018

While it can be terrifically funny and charming, “Peter and the Starcatcher” is a great, unwieldy beast of a play that demands more than a fair share of blood, sweat and tears from its director and cast.

The production that opened on Friday at Hillbarn Theatre on Friday still had some rough edges in need of sanding, and was insufficiently populated with gags, especially in the first act.

The first act had too many actors in a kind of scrum, yelling at each other and the audience, with too few visual jokes. Too much exposition, not enough appealing action.

And, the great Adrienne Walters, who plays Molly, was poorly blocked for some of her best bits. When she is declaiming in Dodo, she should have been up on one of the risers, not standing too close to the audience, where the Hillbarn’s odd sightlines deprived some audience members of her serious mien, which is what makes that gag work.

All that and more needs to be said, but there are still fabulously funny things happening in this show, and an almost 100 percent great cast.

Walters is wonderful, as always, apart from some poor blocking — not her fault — and for occasionally speaking to the wings, in the odd acoustical space that is the Hillbarn.

The show depends on the contrast between the stiff-upper-lip Britishness of Molly and her father (Scott Soloman), and the over-the-top nonsense of most of the rest of the cast. And Walters delivers, with panache.

She is an apprentice starcatcher. It’s a starcatcher’s job to find and protect the little bits of starstuff, to keep tyrants from using it to rule the world. Like Queen Victoria? asks one of the cast. “She doesn’t need starstuff to rule the world,” Molly says, “she’s British!”

The plot, squeezed: Molly’s dad is on a secret mission to carry starstuff to an island where he intends to destroy it in a volcano. He takes it on one ship, and sends Molly to follow on a second ship, with a trunk full of sand. But the trunks get switched. Enter Black Stache and his pirate crew, determined to steal what they think is regular treasure — you know, gold and diamonds, etc. Molly meets and attempts to save some kidnapped boys who are to be sold as slaves or as food. Many complications later, The Boy becomes Peter Pan, and the ongoing classic story is set up.

It’s fun that all the British characters chorus “God save her!” whenever the queen is mentioned.

Will Springhorn Jr. is completely over-the-top and hilarious as Black Stache, the baddest of the bad guys, and what started out as a moribund production is rapidly enlivened when he hits the stage.

Black Stache wants treasure, and he wants to find a hero he can fight against, as he revels in his bad-guyness.

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Sean Okuniewicz is quite good as the boy who is eventually to be named Peter by Black Stache — the Peter who will become Peter Pan, the hero Stache will fight for eternity in Neverland.

I’ve never really liked the way Peter was written by playwright Rick Elice and novelists Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. He’s too slow and stolid. “Boys are decidedly slow thinkers,” as Molly declaims.

But Okuniewicz actually brings some humanity to the character, and gives him an emotional arc as the play develops. A fine job.

Dan Demers — executive artistic director of Hillbarn — is hilarious and always worth watching in several roles, but especially as Smee, Stache’s first mate. Demers is an excellent comic actor, and milks every bit for every possible laugh.

One of the script’s best ongoing gags is Smee correcting Stache when Stache gets a word wrong. An example: That's "splitting rabbits," says Black Stache; "Hairs," Smee tells him, which is a good joke that works a couple of different ways, because of the hares/hairs homophone.

Demers, who is a few inches shorter than Springhorn, carries him onstage piggyback, which is quite funny.

I loved Brittany Marie Pisoni as a cat. She played other roles as well — 13 actors performing 100 roles or so — but her cat was especially charming.

Heather Orth is beautiful and amusing as Mrs. Bumbrake, Molly’s nanny who is doted on by a sailor or two. The part is actually written to be played by a man, but this production seems to be designed to inject more reality into the fantasy. Orth adds a lovely singing voice to the mix.

David Blackburn is terrific as Slank, a scar-faced pirate. Tall and lanky (Slanky?) he speaks with a wonderful accent in a deep voice, and carries himself at an angle that really empowers his character. Masterful performance.

Tasi Alabastro as Alf and Lawrence-Michael Arias as the very enthusiastic Fighting Prawn were both fun.

There is a well-built set dreamed up by scenic designer Christopher Flitzer and director Jeffrey Lo that seemed like such a great idea: Make it a playground play structure, with a swing, a firefighter’s pole, a chain bridge and lots of stairs. The concept being, I think, to underline the idea that the cast is a bunch of children playing at putting on a play.

Thereby attempting to inject some bit of reality into what is a total fantasy? I admired the idea and the set itself without liking it. I don’t like actors having to yell out, “Imagine” this is a ship or that is a jungle. I liked to be helped into the fantasy with some ship props and some jungle scenery. An idea? During all that early exposition, have the cast drape some ship's rigging around the playground. In Act II, replace it with jungle vines. Easy peasy.

The second act starts with the fabulous and hilarious Broadway-style chorus line of mermaids who used to be fish, but then swam through some spilled starstuff. Brightly colored wigs and garish “grass skirts,” and plenty of hilarious mincing by actors make it a lot of fun.

A funny bit of cleverness is using a pair of Crocs shoes to portray Mr. Grin, the crocodile. Later, after Molly feeds Mr. Grin some starstuff, he grows to great size, and is paraded around stage like the dragon in a Chinese parade. Fun.

Less fun? Using yellow kitchen gloves as birds. Eh.

Email John Orr at johnorr@regardingarts.com

cast
Mark and Tracy Photography
What happens when fish swim through water full of starstuff? They turn into mermaids and perform a Broadway style song-and-dance number, in "Peter and the Starcatcher," at Hillbarn Theatre. The show runs January 18 through February 4, 2018.
Springhorn, Blackburn
Mark and Tracy Photography
A battle between ship's captains Black Stache, played by Will Springhorn Jr., left, and Slank, played by David Blackburn, at Hillbarn Theatre. "Peter and the Starcatcher" runs January 18 through February 4, 2018.
Walters, Orth, Blackburn
Mark and Tracy Photography
Adrienne Kaori Walters as Molly, left, and Heather Orth as Mrs. Bumbrake, right, are taken prisoner by David Blackburn as Slank in "Peter and the Starcatcher," at Hillbarn Theatre. The show runs January 18 through February 4, 2018.
Demers, Springhorn, Solomon
Mark and Tracy Photography
Dan Demers as Smee, Will Springhorn Jr. as Black Stache and Scott Solomon as Lord Aster, from left, in "Peter and the Starcatcher" at Hillbarn Theatre. The show runs January 18 through February 4, 2018.
cast and crew
Mark and Tracy Photography
The cast and crew of "Peter and the Starcatcher" at Hillbarn Theatre. The show runs January 18 through February 4, 2018.


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