PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (Walnut): A wacky look at the backstory of Peter Pan

Michaela Shuchman, Brandon O’Rourke, and Lindsay Smiling in Walnut Street Theatre’s PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (Photo credit: Mark Garvin).

Michaela Shuchman, Brandon O’Rourke, and Lindsay Smiling in Walnut Street Theatre’s PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (Photo credit: Mark Garvin).

An all-star ensemble and a stellar design team transport you into the action-packed fantasy world of Walnut Street Theatre’s PETER AND THE STARCATCHER, as you set sail on a zany adventure of story-telling and song. Based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson—a prequel to Scottish playwright J.M. Barrie’s beloved 1904 children’s classic Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up—the stage adaptation by Rick Elice, with music by Wayne Barker, is filled with swashbuckling escapades on the high seas, dramatic escapes from dastardly villains, the growing pains and soaring dreams of childhood, and decidedly grown-up humor and appeal that will also amuse the kids (even if they don’t get all of the jokes).

Set in 1885, during the Victorian era of the British Empire, the eccentric characters invite you to “use your imagination” as they recount their elaborate tale of the battle between two ships to control a trunkful of “starstuff” that magically transforms people into what they most want to be. In so doing, they relay the backstories of how an abused and lonely orphan boy became Peter Pan, how the pirate Black Stache lost his hand to become Captain Hook, how Neverland was founded, how Tinkerbell and her fairy dust were created, how Wendy came to know Peter, and a whole lot more!

Under the creative, well-timed, and finely blocked direction of Bill Van Horn and Assistant Director Aaron Cromie, a baker’s dozen of adult actors play dozens of roles and an assortment of musical instruments through the outlandish adventurers’ fast-paced journey. Inspired by the tradition of the British Panto, they delight the audience with hilarious slapstick and sight gags, laugh-out-loud groan-inducing puns and anachronisms, jocular send-ups of the Brits, direct-address narration and asides, a Vaudevillian-style Music Hall number (performed in the guise of sea creatures by the “Tipsy Bacchanals”), and a clever assortment of sound effects, from bird calls to thunder.

Aaron Cromie and Ian Merrill Peakes in Walnut Street Theatre’s PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (Photo credit: Mark Garvin).

Aaron Cromie and Ian Merrill Peakes in Walnut Street Theatre’s PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (Photo credit: Mark Garvin).

Brandon O’Rourke is the neglected and struggling orphan Boy without a name, who regularly proclaims “I hate grown-ups!” and wants only to enjoy living out the childhood dreams he was denied. Michaela Shuchman makes for an indomitable Molly Aster, the strong and precocious teen/apprentice Starcatcher who speaks Dodo and Norwegian as fluently as the Queen’s English, and though she’s just “a girl,” leads the Lost Boys, saves them from their foes, and nurtures them with the maternal love they never had. The ever-superb Ian Merrill Peakes hams it up and commands the stage as their lead antagonist Black Stache—“a pirate with scads of panache”—nimbly executing uproarious bits of physical comedy and deftly delivering laughable malapropisms (“Splitting rabbits . . . hares . . . Splitting hairs”).

The supporting cast adds immeasurably to the fun, with Davy Raphaely and Matthew Mastronardi as the endearing orphan boys Prentiss (the self-proclaimed leader) and Ted (aka Tubby), who is obsessed with food; David Bardeen as the course, lusty, and flatulent sailor Alf; the mustached Dave Jadico in drag as his love interest Mrs. Bumbrake; Dan Hodge as Molly’s father Lord Aster—the stalwart Starcatcher on a mission for the Queen, who, at every mention of her name, utters “God Save Her!” with utter devotion; and Alex Bechtel (who also serves as Music Supervisor) as Captain Scott, a friend of Aster and the ever-so-British commander of the good ship Wasp.

Rounding out the terrific ensemble are Lindsay Smiling as the cruel and greedy Captain Bill Slank; Nichalas L. Parker as Fighting Prawn—the Chief of the Mollusks with a linguistic penchant for Italian food; Jered McLenigan, unrecognizable as he switches from one character to his next; and Aaron Cromie, a standout as the pirate Smee—Black Stache’s faithful first mate, with whom he delivers some of the show’s most side-splitting scenes (their handling of Black Stache’s amputated right hand is a howl!).

Todd Edward Ivins’ imposing scenic design recreates the towering cross-section of a cargo-laden multi-level wooden ship, illuminated by J. Dominic Chacon’s beautiful lighting, which colorfully distinguishes between daytime and night, and reveals stormy weather, sunshine, and starlit skies through the open slats of the boat’s timber frame. Costumes by Mary Folino capture both the period and the silliness, and sound designer Christopher Colucci achieves a perfect balance in the dialogue, sound effects, and music (coordinated by Mark Yurkanin). It all makes for one fabulous evening of madcap entertainment!

[Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut Street] March 15-May 1, 2016;walnutstreettheatre.org

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About the author

Debra Miller

Debra holds a PhD in Art History from the University of Delaware and teaches at Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ. She is a judge for the Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre, Philadelphia Arts and Culture Correspondent for Central Voice, and has served as a Commonwealth Speaker for the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and President of the Board of Directors of Da Vinci Art Alliance. Her publications include articles, books, and catalogues on Renaissance, Baroque, American, Pre-Columbian, and Contemporary Art, and feature articles on the Philadelphia theater scene.