‘Starcatcher’: Peter Pan before he took flight
BOSTON – The story of “Peter Pan” has reverberated across the various media – books, stage, TV, film — ever since J.M. Barrie’s play “Peter Pan” debuted in 1904 and led to his subsequent novel “Peter and Wendy.”
It’s currently represented on Broadway by “Finding Neverland,” the story of Barrie’s relationship with a family that inspired “Peter Pan,” and which originated at the American Repertory Theater.
There are different versions of what happened after Wendy joined Peter and the Lost Boys in Neverland, but not about how Peter and the Lost Boys got there, and how Captain Hook and the other characters came into the picture.
The Lyric Stage Company production of Rick Elice’s “Peter and the Starcatcher” is a charming, cheeky prequel to the events in “Peter Pan.” It differs greatly in substance and style from another prequel to another classic tale – “Wicked,” the mega-musical that foreshawows the events in “The Wizard of Oz.”
In many ways, it is the “anti-Wicked” because while there are no fire-breathing dragons or flying witches, there is a seemingly endless amount of swashbuckling adventure, imaginatively presented.
This “Peter” is awash in British humor – the drier and droller the better – and the cast is often performing with tongues planted firmly in cheeks, probably because the book which Elice drew from was co-written by famed newspaper columnist Dave Barry.
The 12-member ensemble seamlessly plays dozens of parts in a sprawling adventure that begins in England in 1885 and takes place in ports, aboard ships, and on various islands.
Because of the demands put on the cast, this “Peter,” as Lyric Stage associate artistic director A. Nora Long notes, is similar to the Lyric’s epic staging of “The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby,”
The plot has to do with two identical trunks loaded onto different ships at a British port bound for the far-off kingdom of Rundoon: the Wasp, the fastest ship afloat, commanded by Captain Scott (Robert Saoud) and the Neverland, commanded by the villainous Bill Slank (Dale Young) .
One trunk contains a treasure owned by the Queen, while the other contains just sand. There is much mixing up of the trunks, much to the consternation of someone vigorously pursuing those trunks: Ed Hoopman’s Black Stache, the forerunner of Captain Hook, who here is pretty much Groucho Marx as a pirate.
It’s probably no coincidence since Hoopman did portray Groucho in Lyric’s 2011 production of “Animal Crackers.” He’s just as funny here in his villainy and the funny byplay between him and his “right-hand man,” (pun very much intended) Smee (Alejandro Simoes), which includes a scene where the one-handed Stache and Smee exchange a a chain of amusing one-liners.
“Peter” marks the return of the gifted Erica Spyres to the Lyric Stage, and she is the very essence of spunk and spice as Molly Aster, the 13-year-old girl and “apprentice starcatcher” at the center of the action. Her father, Lord Aster (Damon Singletary) is an adventurer and starcatcher who is the custodian of the precious cargo on the Wasp.
The starcatchers of the title are a handful of people appointed by the Queen to protect starstuff as it falls to earth and dispose of it in the world’s hottest active volcano, Mount Jalapeño, which is on Rundoon.
Molly and her father often speak in obscure dialects, including the hilarious “Norse Code,” which Spyres handles with aplomb.
Slank on the Neverland has purchased three orphans destined to become “snake food” on Rundoon, but the three escape from the cargo hold with Molly’s help. Marc Pierre is the young unnamed orphan boy who would later become Peter Pan, and from the outset there is rivalry between Peter and Molly, debates and trash talk over who can run faster or who is a better leader.
There is some Three Stooges-style interaction among the trio of Lost Boys, with Matt Spanno as the food-obsessed Ted and Tyler Simahk as Prentiss.
The cross-gender casting of two gifted comic actors, Will McGarrahan as Molly’s feisty nanny, Mrs. Bumbrake, and Margaret Ann Brady, as the hard-bitten deckhand Alf, works hilariously well, their relationship blossoming during a shared struggle for survival.
Janie E. Howland’s scenic design includes a ramshackle random collection of planks which can become ship or shore.
Director Spiro Veloudos makes sure the timing is en pointe and the action never flags, and no one is killed or maimed during the numerous entrances and exits.
Wayne Barker’s music here is more of an adjunct to the non-stop action, but it does feature one hilarious number that opens the second act, featuring the entire cast as dancing mermaids, with nifty choreography by Ilyse Robbins and Elisabetta Polito’s wonderful costumes, most especially the tops of the mermaid costumes made of various sea creatures.
No, there’s no flying or fire-breathing dragons. What there is big theatrical magic in a small space, humor, heart, great fun, and a fine ensemble cast knocking itself out to entertain you.
The Lyric Stage Company of Boston production of “Peter and the Starcatcher.” Play by Rick Elice, based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. Music by Wayne Barker. Directed by Spiro Veloudos. Choreography by Ilyse Robbins. Scenic design by Janie E. Howland. Costume design by Elisabetta Polito. Ligjhting design by Frank Meissner Jr. Music direction by Catherine Stornetta. At the Lyric Stage Company through June 25. http://www.lyricstage.com.