Produced by: TheatreWorks
Featuring: Patrick Kelly Jones, Adrienne Walters, Tom Homsley, Darren Bridgett, Ron Campbell, Cyril Jamal Cooper, Suzanne Grodner, Jeremy Kahn, Christopher Reber, Will Springhorn Jr., Michael Gene Sullivan and Kenny Toll
Directed by: Robert Kelley
Running time: 145 minutes, with one intermission
When: December 3, 2014 through January 3, 2015
Where: Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, California
Tickets: $19-$74 (discounts available. Visit theatreworks.org or call 650-463-1960
'Peter and the Starcatcher'
"Peter and the Starcatcher" at TheatreWorks is a continuous comic riot of hilarity, with a wide range of gags and jokes that will appeal to pretty much anybody from about the age of 4 on.
Sure, some of the jokes will sail right over the heads of the tots, but there is so much going on visually, from Joe Ragey's fabulous set, with its ships' riggings and sails, and jungle plants that run in and out from the wings, to B. Modern's hilarious costumes, including mermaids that have brassieres made of colorful plastic funnels, and a crown made of a water can, that children are likely to enjoy the entire show.
And when the big sword fights happen, with badminton rackets and toilet plungers serving as swords, many a childish imagination is going to be fully engaged, and happy for the great ideas for play when they get home.
And there is plenty for the adults to enjoy, especially the fabulous comic performances from an excellent cast, and endless funny dialogue.
It is the story of how an unnamed orphan boy became Peter Pan, with his family of lost boys and eternal enemy, Captain Hook, and his longing for a girl named Molly who saves him, but can't stay with him. (She has to go back to England, and eventually give birth to a girl named Wendy.)
The play by Rick Elice is based on a novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson and is rich with humor and excitement. It was born in La Jolla, California, and had good runs on- and off-Broadway in New York, where it was nominated for nine Tonys and won five.
TheatreWorks founder and Artistic Director Robert Kelley says "we consider our holiday shows a special gift to our community," and the company has certainly outdone itself with this generous show, which makes the most of the massive pool of creative talent TheatreWorks has amassed.
Ragey's set is one of the most fun and functional I've ever seen. Actors climb up ratlines to reach those second-story wing stagelets; stage left and right walls are covered with who-knows-what nautical implements, including "telescopes" plucked off by sea captains during ships' battles. Slatted wooden walls slide in to make a below-decks brig; a huge blue sheet becomes the raging ocean in which the Boy almost drowns, before being saved by Molly.
Modern's costumes help tell the story, and engage imaginations. Pamila Z. Gray's lighting keeps things dark when needed, and sunny on an island, with all action visible at all times. Brendan Aanes' sound design brings in thunder as needed. Dottie Lester-White's choreography is hilarious, with the kind of stomping one might expect from children playing at pirates. Kit Wilder's fight choreography is good (Wilder, who is all things theater, has his own play, "Truce: A Christmas Wish from the Great War," on stage through December 21, 2014, at City Lights in San Jose).
Music, by Wayne Barker, and performed by TheatreWorks music director William Liberatore on keys and Artie Storch on percussion, keeps the show going.
And then there are casting director Leslie Martinson and dialect coach Richard Newton, who have outdone themselves with the 12 members of this cast, who have to deliver lines at least in British accents, but also in Rundoon island speak, Dodo, and Norse (not Morse) code.
Book writer Elice told Karen D'Souza of the Mercury News that "This is really a two-hander. It's Peter and the Girl."
And that's sort of true, in terms of plotting, but the more powerful story is that of Molly, the 13-year-old who wants to accompany her heroic father on his mission to deliver Queen Victoria's treasure to the island of Rundoon. But he forces her to take a slower ship, the Neverland, on a safer, slower route, while he sails ahead on the Wasp.
Each ship carries a trunk, but only one of them has the real treasure. In a bit of dock trickery, the trunks are swapped, and Molly unknowingly sails with the real treasure. And her father's ship turns out to be populated by pirates, who take him prisoner.
Molly rescues some orphan boys who might have been sold as slaves or as food, protects the treasure, and jumps into the ocean to save the Boy who becomes Peter (Tim Homsley, in his TheatreWorks debut; he was Kai in the world premiere of "The Snow Queen" at San Jose Rep in 2013).
Adrienne Walters is excellent as Molly, and it's fun to see her do so extremely well in the role I think I first saw this Bay Area native in a show at Foothill Music Theatre, then at the old Bus Barn Theatre, and then in Molly Bell's wonderful Divas for Life program. It's happiness on the hoof to see her excel when directed by the great Kelley.
Modern tries to hide the fact that Walters is, indeed, a grown-up, under a girlish smock, and Walters carries the role as if she were, indeed, the precocious and very special upper-class British girl with extraordinary gifts, thrown into a situation that calls for great heroics.
The business about speaking Dodo and Norse Code is hilarious, and shared with Darren Bridgett, who plays Lord Aster, Molly's father. I say no more. Go see the show. Walters is powerful and astoundingly funny in these bits.
Ron Campbell is brilliantly hilarious as Molly's nanny, Mrs. Bumbrake, and as Teacher, a former fish who becomes a mermaid. Tall, gangly and a man, it is so funny when a couple of the sailors immediately develop crushes on him. He carries the role with great panache and fun.
Cyril Jamal Cooper is very funny as Ted, one of the starving orphan boys, who gets very weak-kneed whenever someone mentions sticky pudding.
Michael Gene Sullivan carries four roles and is perhaps funniest as Fighting Prawn, chief of the Mollusk Islanders, who wants to feed all the English people to Mr. Grin, the giant crocodile. He is delightful in his delivery of his various accents.
Patrick Kelly Jones, who was excellent in "Water by the Spoonful" in August and September, is completely over-the-top slapstick fun as Black Stache, the bad guy, who is destined to become Captain Hook. He is the reason all theater-goers must use the bathroom at intermission, to avoid losing control of their bladders when they laugh themselves silly during a certain scene involving the treasure trunk. Excellent performance.
Another fine performer, oft-seen at TheatreWorks, is Suzanne Grodner, who is brilliantly funny as Smee, Black Stache's first mate. Black Stache is given to using the wrong word, frequently, and Grodner's comic timing is very impressive as she corrects him.
An example: That's "splitting rabbits," says Black Stache; "Hairs," she tells him, which is a great joke that works a couple of different ways, because of the hares/hairs homophone.
The entire cast is energetically and fully in every moment onstage, which makes for a tremendously entertaining show.
By the way, the way Mr. Grin as shown is quite funny to adults ... but I can imagine he will be quite terrifying to some young children. Parents, be prepared. And I loved the little yellow feather dusters as "birds." Funny, yet ironic.
Who couldn't use a delightful evening in a theater where the laughter echoes off the walls? Find a way to go see this show.
Email John Orr at firstname.lastname@example.org