★★★★☆ - Delicious
Just like in fairy tales, in the magical world of theater anything is possible if only you believe. Believe that an undulating rope is a wave on the ocean, or that a rolling ladder is a lookout tower on a sailing ship. Or that a floppy yellow glove is a pesky bird, and that with the help of “starstuff” kitty cats can fly. It’s possible to believe anything when you let your imagination run free.
And believe we did, those of us in the rowdy, packed, all-ages audience at Las Vegas Little Theatre on opening night of their rollicking presentation of “Peter and the Starcatcher.” Rick Elice’s 2009 Tony Award-winning stage adaptation (with music by Wayne Baker) is based on the 2004 similarly titled children’s novel by humor columnist Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, which serves as a prequel to J.M. Barrie’s 1911 novel “Peter and Wendy” and gives the backstory to Peter Pan (and other iconic characters) and how he got his symbolic wings.
Set during the Victorian British Empire the story is action-packed and hilarious but has a complicated plot, with dual narratives in the first act taking place on two ships sailing on separate voyages, carrying very different cargoes and passengers. But after a violent tempest in the second act everyone finds themselves shipwrecked on an island filled with hostile natives and a giant crocodile named Mr. Grin.
The Wasp carries Starcatcher Lord Aster (a very regal Chris Hermening) who has been appointed by the Queen to accompany a trunk full of treasured starstuff (the remnants of falling stars) and safely dispose of it in Mount Jalapeno. But alas the Wasp is hijacked by the dashing, evil pirate Black Stache (Lysander Abadia, delightfully chewing the scenery) and his sidekick Smee (the perfectly buffoonish Kyle Jones) who covet the precious treasure.
On the dilapidated ship the Neverland we find Lord Aster’s clever thirteen-year-old daughter, apprentice Starcatcher Molly (a poised and evocative Aviana Glover) under the charge of her nanny the flirty Mrs. Bumbrake (Brian Scott, masterfully droll in minimal drag) and telling bedtime stories to urchin orphans the Lost Boys (Casper Collins as Ted, Addison Calvin as Prentiss, and Michael Blair as Boy).
But where’s Peter Pan? Boy is Peter, and spends most of the show becoming himself. This isn’t the defiant, confident, eternal child Peter that we know and love; not yet anyway, though those seeds are planted in his hatred of grown-ups and his yearning to just be a boy. Blair in the role fashions a pale, melancholy waif, one who has forgotten his name but endured starvation and cruel beatings in a windowless, filthy orphanage. It’s heartwarming to watch this sensitive soul awaken to his true identity when for the first time in his life he feels the warmth of sunlight and the joy of choosing a new name, with the empathetic Glover as Molly to guide him through.
Both Abadia and Scott give bravura comic performances, albeit of very different kinds. Abadia is the over-the-top fop, full of dramatic flourish and snarling glee, and Scott’s deadpan delivery is smooth and impeccably timed, like when he portrays Teacher, a salmon transformed into a mermaid by what he calls “star-stoof.” Each in their own way brings down the house.
The play is written and presented story-theatre style with the terrific cast serving not only as narrators and multiple characters but also as scenery, props, and crew. Oh, and they sing and dance too, accompanied by the musical direction of James Mares and percussionist Jeff McCracken (who also craft whimsical sound effects) and to the vaudevillian kickline choreography of Abadia.
Ron Lindblom’s transformable wooden plank set looks fine but didn’t quite cooperate on opening night, though Ginny Adams’ velvety lighting takes us from the shadowy depths of an old ship to the blue of the ocean, and Laura McClure’s Victorian costumes range from the shine of a sea captain to the grime of an old salt.
There’s a lot going on in this show, and kudos to Director Walter Niejadlik and his assistant Gillen Brey for shaping potential mayhem into organized, wild fun. A bit of blocking does disappoint, mostly in scenes featuring Molly and the boys sitting floor level downstage which audience in upper levels might find difficult to see, and very often the narration and dialogue get lost in the melee. But the show so effortlessly sweeps us along for the voyage, we hardly mind.
Like Molly says, “To have faith is to have wings.”