Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Review: 'Peter and the Starcatcher' Wonders into the Brooks Atkinson Theatre

The cast of 'Peter and the Starcatcher'
I knew nothing of ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’ until the announcement that it would open on Broadway after its workshop and Off-Broadway presentations. Learning that the play was sort of an origins story like the mega-hit musical ‘Wicked’ is to the ‘The Wizard of Oz’, I was interested in seeing the show.

Kevin Del Aguila and Christian Borle
The play stars Christian Borle, coming off his first season on the series ‘Smash’ on network television, as the dastardly Black Stache, Adam Chanler-Berat as Boy and Celia Keenan-Bolger as Molly. They're in a company of twelve actors that play more than a hundred characters in this epic story. I guess it’s not a spoiler that all characters would be major players in the ‘Peter Pan’ story. Though ‘Wicked’ has its faults, I found that musical rather clever to reveal the background of iconic figures such as the Wicked Witch of the West, the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion and the Tin Man. And add to that we get to find out from where those ruby slippers came.

The background story of Peter and Wendy is not so revelatory. Overall the show is rather pleasant and would probably work better on a smaller stage. It’s not that all parties don’t try really hard. The actors look like they’re having a lot of fun and I found myself laughing quite heartily every so often especially in the second act opener with the cast of men dressed up as mermaids performing a musical number. There is no fault in the performances of the trio of main characters. Borle displays gift for witty physical comedy while Chanler-Berat and Keenan-Bolger are sweet and plucky in their respective roles. The three are supported by a lively ensemble.

Adam Chanler=Berat and Celia Keenan-Bolger
But those songs. It could be my penchant for musical theatre but when the music stops it’s as if the show is waiting for its next song or at least a dramatic underscore.

Probably what helped to hold my attention was the wonderful stagecraft: Sets by Donyale Werele and costumes by Paloma H. Young which when upon close inspection are crafted of everyday items or junk. But they’re assembled so fluidly that from afar you may notice the individual objects (e.g. a fork) and then admire the glimmering assemblage. Adding a golden sheen is the lighting by Jeff Croiter. The low-tech stagecraft extends its cleverness into the props. See what the actors do with a rope here, a stick there or a shirt and when combined with obvisoulsy painted backdrops we fall for it all without questioning it.

Appearing to be a critical darling the play walked away with five Tony Awards out of its nine nominations. It swept all the design and sound categories with its only major award for Borle as featured actor. But something has to be said when a play with less than a handful of songs is nominated for best score when there were more than enough musicals to fill out the category.

Playwright Rick Elice has crafted Broadway shows before (‘Jersey Boys’, ‘The Addams Family’) and Alex Timbers is respected for his work on ‘Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson’. Timbers co-directs with actor Roger Rees. Based on Peter and the Starcatchers the book by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, single scenes become delightful while others tire quickly. If the show had been developed further into a full pantomime in the tradition of British theatre for the Main Stem, it’s possibly that the show would be more entrancing. The show is mildly whimsical with parts that are far better than the whole. I hope family audiences keep coming after summer ends. I’m guessing beyond that the light may begin to fade ‘Starcatcher.’

Matt D'Amico, Rick Holmes, Isaiah Johnson, Adam Chanler-Berat and
Christian Borle.

Christian Borle (center) and cast.
The cast of 'Peter and the Starcatcher'
The cast of 'Peter and the Starcatcher'
Pictured left to right: Christian Borle, Arnie Burton, Celia Keenan-Bolger
and Adam Chanler-Berat.


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