“Peter and the Starcatcher” is a two-act romp with music that is made for the intimate space of the Mainstage at the Metropolis Performing Arts Center. It also is a fast-paced, wordy, pun-heavy mixture of “Monty Python,” “Gilbert and Sullivan” and British seaside music hall; timing and movement are crucial.
Director Lili Anne Brown has cast a superb ensemble of 12 actors (seven making their Metropolis debuts) and a harder working, energetic, more exuberant cast is unlikely to be found anywhere.
Billed as the grownups’ prequel to “Peter Pan,” playwright Rick Elice based “Peter and the Starcatcher” on the 2004 novel by humorist Dave Barry and suspense novelist Ridley Pearson. This musical tale is the recipient of five Tonys, one Drama Desk, and three Lucille Lortel awards and digs into the roots of the familiar legend of Peter Pan; it is a play based on make-believe and the power of storytelling.
Lord Leonard Aster (a stalwart and stiff upper-lipped patricianly handsome Patrick Byrnes) and his precocious, spunky 13-year-old daughter Molly (athletically and feistily played by adult wonder Sarah Cartwright) are charged with a secret mission: delivering a trunk of Queen Victoria’s magical “starstuff” to the remote kingdom of Rundoon. But wait! There’s a decoy trunk filled with sand. And thus, the complications begin. One trunk is aboard the fastest ship afloat, The Wasp, with Lord Aster, and the other is on the old weather beaten The Neverland captained by nasty Bill Slank (loathsomely portrayed by Cullen Rogers) and on a slower route to Rundoon. Molly and her faithful devoted nanny, Mrs. Brumbrake (joyfully and humorously portrayed by the alliteration gifted Will Kazda – “Don’t show Slank the slightest sniff of fear”) are onboard. They’re joined by three orphans: the food obsessed Ted (a very amiable Ryan Hamman), the self-proclaimed leader Prentiss (Wil Wilhelm, a talented actor I adored in “Rent”), and The Boy, aka Peter (a very honest and spirited Ben F.l Locke whose transition from sullen anger to the courageous eternal child is both captivating and poignant).
Naturally, there are shipwrecks and swashbuckling galore and an island complete with natives whose chief (the incredible Steve Peebles) sacrifices all English trespassers to Mr. Grin, the island’s hungry crocodile. Are you beginning to connect the origin dots here?
Though the entire ensemble delivers superb performances, there are two obvious standouts: Luis David Cortes is an adorable sniveling, bumbling Smee who corrects and supports his captain, Black Stache, and Michael Pine, as the somewhat foppish Black Stache who almost steals the show in every scene. Pine’s misquoting, feared malapropism prone cutthroat pirate is an exquisite and articulate madcap model of villainy. He, along with Cartwright’s Molly, own the stage.
The style and intentions of the multiple characters beautifully are expressed in Rachel S. Parent’s delightful costumes and the intricate choreography of Brigitte Ditmars (especially the shipwreck scene and the Esther Williams mermaids). Joe Mohamed’s lighting is multi-layered, and Ashley Woods’ scenic design cleverly conveys ships, mountains and tropical jungles. Two pirate-shirted musicians are housed beneath the top mast: conductor Micky York on piano and percussionist Lior Shaggs. They are joined by violinist Elisa Carlson, who also does double duty as Captain Scott; their execution of Wayne Baker’s music is simply wonderful. And I have to hand it to dialect coach Sammi Grant – everyone sounds terribly British.
Hilarity is guaranteed, and the ending is sure to leave you misty-eyed, but I do have some concerns. For all the charming silliness, the plot can be rather complex, almost begging a second viewing. Act One has a long and confusing shipwreck; the fate of Mr. Grin never is made clear, and the depiction of the Golden Grotto is weak. But these are convolutions of the script. There is one thing the Metropolis can fix, however. The rapidity and franticness of the words often results in the audience not being able to grasp or make sense of what was said. The dialogue may be contemporary, but it is not easily absorbed.
But do catch the Metropolis savvy production before, like Peter, it too flies away. It is a treasure!
• Regina Belt-Daniels is a working actress and director who began her career onstage in 1985 at the Woodstock Opera House. Currently serving on the Raue Center for the Arts board, she also is a lifetime member of TownSquare Players and a retired District 47 teacher.
“PETER AND THE STARCATCHER”
WHEN: Through Aug. 20
WHERE: Metropolis Performing Arts Center, 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights
COST & INFO: Tickets: $38. Tickets and information: 847-577-2121 or www.metropolisarts.com.