Chicago Theatre Review
A Story That Soars Up to the Sky
Peter and the Starcatcher
A dozen actors enter through the mist onto Scott Davis’ deceptively simple set, virtually an empty stage adorned with suspended rigging, simple platforms and hidden trapdoors. They are about to begin an imaginatively presented story theatre prequel to Sir James M. Barrie’s play, “Peter and Wendy.” With rapid-fire clarity, nicely-enunciated and peppered with precise British dialects, the cast delivers a quick prologue, preparing the audience for the next two and a half hours of entertainment. This troupe of talented actors flawlessly shift between their role as narrators and the many characters they’ll portray in this creative, often hilarious and magically realized comedy, written by Rick Elice (“Jersey Boys,” “The Addams Family”). This play with music is adapted from the bestselling children’s novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson.
Here is a production, directed with sharp focus, rhythm and childlike wonder by Artistic Director William Osetek, supported by Ben Johnson’s superb Musical Direction and accompaniment (the band, floating high above the playing area) and some delightfully frivolous choreography by Rhett Guter, that offers flawless, effervescent acting from its multitalented 12-member cast. Osetek keeps the pacing swift and sparkling, constantly offering new surprises and unexpected inventiveness. With a tip of the hat to the English Music Hall, British Panto productions, vaudeville and the circus, this play overflows with rich, poetic language, malapropisms and puns. Although not technically a musical, the play features several delightful songs beautifully performed musical number. The Act II opening number, entitled, “Starstuff Made a Mermaid Outta Me,” features the cast bedecked in mirthful mermaid costumes, designed by Sally Dolembo. Mr. Guter’s choreography turns this moment into a Busby-Berkley spectacular that becomes the highlight of the production.
Just as the musical “Wicked” provides a backstory for “The Wizard of Oz,” so this Tony Award-winning play does the same for “Peter and Wendy.” Besides spinning an endearing new tale, theatergoers will learn so many new facts: how did a certain orphan Boy acquire the name Peter Pan, who’s Molly and where’s Wendy, how did Tinkerbell and the mermaids come to be, who were the Lost Boys, how did Hook lose his hand and earn his new moniker, whence came Mr. Grin (the enormous crocodile) and what makes him tick, how did Peter’s home come to be called Neverland and why will Peter always remain a boy, a boy who can fly?
The cast, which includes several new faces to the Drury Lane stage, is completely enthralling and multitalented. Making his Chicago debut, agile and unabashedly charismatic Caleb Donahoe is perfect as the Boy Who Would Be Peter. Played with absolute honesty and sporting a pixie-like smile, this young actor is all Pan. Emma Rosenthal, so excellent in Drury Lane’s recent “West Side Story,” is Molly. As the only girl in the cast, she plays her part with authority and confidence. Easily, Ms. Rosenthal accepts her role as the leader as she educates, entertains, rescues and falls in love with her Lost Boys. Together, these two young actors form a solid duo to carry this irresistible story.
Chicago’s own Matt Mueller, the multitalented actor/singer so impressive in Northlight’s recent prduction of “Shining Lives,” is skillfully and ingeniously over-the-top as the child-like villain, Black Stache. Wildly energetic, this handsome actor effortlessly masters his role, chewing up every stick of scenery, much to the audience’s delight. His asides and ad libs are among this production’s funniest moments. Rod Thomas, another of Chicago’s finest and most versatile actors, is nicely nuanced and gently paternal as Molly’s father and appropriately commanding as Lord Aster, the Queen’s guardian of the magical starstuff.
As both Molly’s nanny, the matronly Mrs. Bumbrake, and as Teacher, a very instructive mermaid, John Keating is deliciously sassy and wickedly entertaining. The always engagingly comic Jeff Dumas, who wowed audiences in Drury Lane’s “Young Frankenstein” and “The 39 Steps,” is once again side-splitting here as Black Stache’s right-hand man, Smee. Jake Klinkhammer is a sweetly devoted Alf, Andrew Mueller portrays an hilarious Fighting Prawn, Brandon Springman is a dashing Captain Scott and Rhett Guter does double duty, not only as Choreographer but playing both the diabolical Slank and the jolly Hawking Clam. And as Ted and Prentiss, Peter’s original Lost Boys, Zack Colonna and Aaron Kirby are true standouts.
This wonderful play with music, now enjoying its first Chicago regional production, swept the 2012 Tony Awards with five wins. Although older children and teenagers will certainly enjoy it, this show is clearly aimed at adults and will appeal to every theatergoer hoping to treat his inner child. Saturated with typically British humor, it’s the kind of show for audiences who enjoy the offbeat humor of Monty Python and Benny Hill. Sporting an intricately-contrived plot and a two-and-a-half hour running time, this production may feel a bit long for audiences accustomed to television. However, imagine a show in which an assortment of old planking and ropes turn into sailing ships, where the bars of a prison cell become the grin of a giant crocodile and children fly with the help of their friends. This very special production, which incorporates the audience’s imagination in a partnership with a company of talented artists, is the real starstuff that makes this magical production soar.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented September 3-October 18 by Drury Lane Oakbrook, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, IL.
Tickets are available by calling the box office 630-530-0111 or by going to www.drurylaneoakbrook.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.