Glowing! Ringing! Flying! That can only mean one thing! Peter and the Starcatcher has landed at Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre as a part of the Broadway Across America— CareFirst Hippodrome Broadway Series. This innovative and imaginative musical play based on the best-selling novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson will take audiences young and old soaring on a high seas adventure with orphan boys, a determined and precocious young girl, and of course, pirates! Serving as an origin story of Peter Pan, the boy who wouldn’t grow up, this incredible show will stun and amaze audiences everywhere with its brilliant simplicity, uproarious comedy, and heartwarming tales of family and home. The five-time Tony Award-winning play sails into Baltimore under the Direction of Roger Rees and Alex Timbers with Music by Wayne Barker; a sensational combination of everything one could hope for in an epic fantasy tale.
The show thrives in its beautiful simplicity; while the sets are gorgeous and the costumes divine there is nothing overly elaborate about them; bringing the perfect blend of Broadway spectacle and the creative imagination together for a magical masterpiece that will enthrall the audience from start to finish. Scenic Designer Donyale Werle creates a striking ship’s interior for the first act of the show and juxtaposes its dark and gloomy interior against the spaciously lush jungle greens of the island and beach in act II. Werle’s switch from monochromatic brown scheme in the first act to vivid shimmering colors in the second are almost reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz, letting many of the new discoveries to be explored appear in vivacious shades of glimmering green, blue, and purple.
Special effects were never more effective than when played out by simple tricks of light. Lighting Designer Jeff Croiter brings stunning tricks to the table, particularly during the storm scenes that clash at the end of Act I. His subtle shifts in color tone once on the island take a moonlit mountain top to a shimmering grotto to the bright hours of dawn breaking across the beach. Combining Croiter’s efforts with Sound Designer Darron L West creates the epitome of scenic locale, including the ever-creaking roiling bowels of the ship. West’s sound design makes true magic appear; doors slamming shut or squeaking open when they are little more than people hopping about in place of fancy props. The overall effect of West and Croiter’s work is phenomenal; creating some of the most fascinating moments that transport you deep into the fantastical world of the adventure.
When the ships start tossing about in the violent gale-force winds, or when the natives of Mollusk Island lay siege to the English invaders, the stage devolves into pell-mell and chaos. Movement Coordinator Steven Hoggett executes flawless routines that keep the calamity looking sharp and feeling like a part of a natural high-stakes adventure. Every movement and scene has choreography to it; a genuine flow of energy that passes from one performer to the next; shared by the company. There are even allusions of dancing sprinkled throughout, making Hoggett’s work truly spectacular.
Rick Elice, the show’s playwright, has crafted a true theatrical masterpiece. Acknowledging that it is a play while bursting with inspiration from the wickedly clever novels, Elice’s show is inspirational and pure creative genius. Often obliterating the fourth while entirely with blasts of humor that match pirate ship cannon force, Elice welcomes the audience into the magic. The puns are prime, the humor is hysterical, and the overall tale is touching. A true gift to theatres everywhere; it’s no wonder the show was able to snag five Tony Awards.
The performances from the ensemble across the board are beyond just seaworthy. Working as a collective ensemble, every member of the cast takes their turn narrating the tale. Juxtaposing these serene moments of reflective narration against the way the performers so flawlessly jump into scenes in their characters creates the living soul of theatrical brilliance right before your very eyes. Be sure to enjoy the company numbers, featuring singing and all sorts of dazzling showmanship both at the end of act I, and the top of act II.
Every character has their moment, some more than others, and Mrs. Bumbrake (Benjamin Schrader) more than most. Schrader plays the doting nanny to young Molly, but comes with her own brand of ripe comic errs. Played exceptionally well off her scene partner Alf (Harter Clingman) the laughs head on full speed ahead when this duo gets going. Mr. Smee (Luke Smith) is another personality of note among the cast; his constant thickheaded and dimwitted shenanigans adding a level of uproarious counterpart humor to the notorious Black Stache.
Seeming to come in pairs the comedy keeps rolling with Prentiss (Carl Howell) and Ted (Edward Tourner.) This pair of wise-cracking orphans brings a dynamic round of humor and a little bit of heartache to the tale as well. Howell, with the more obstinate of the two personalities, tends to be a bit more brash, particularly when interacting with Molly, while Tourner provides a great deal of humorous giggles in his constant obsession with food. Both of these lost boys tremble in stark-raving fear when it comes to Slank (Jimonn Cole.) The only true villain for miles around, Cole sinks his teeth into a vicious, nasty role of vile putrid wickedness; barking and stalking about the ship with a menacing prowl enough to startle anyone lurking about below deck.
We come to the latter half of the title, Molly (Megan Stern) the Starcatcher. Insufferably intelligent and insatiably curious, Stern brings a spark of energy to the character. Constantly on her slightly sarcastic toes, she spars well verbally with both the lost boys and the Boy (Joey deBettencourt) who later becomes the first half of the show’s title. Stern’s quick-witted delivery makes her zingers that much more poignant. Balancing out her petulant youth with wisdom beyond her years she makes for a fascinating character. Playing exceptionally well opposite of her, deBettencourt brings the genuine sincerity to the tale. With visions and dreams of home and acceptance, though his roles does have moments of comedy, it is the grounding force that tethers the dreams of this play to the clouds. With an eager spark in his eye, deBettencourt gives an epic performance as a boy who wishes to just remain a boy; a truly vibrant encapsulation of childhood in its prime.
Stealing the show with all of his foppish charm and flamboyant affectations is the not so feared Black Stache (John Sanders.) With an air of effeminate charm, Sanders is a scream from the moment he sashays onto the stage. Sanders delivers each pun with panache, each zinger with zip, and every single flounce from one side of the ship or the island to the other is laced with hilarity. His physical efforts are almost Vaudevillian; his quirky charisma delivering laugh after laugh from beginning to end. The enthusiasm with which he portrays the famed pirate is sheer comic genius; unstoppable laughter as he steals scene after scene with a simple toss of his hand or flopping over of a trunk. The “Oh My God” scene near the conclusion of the production has the audience in un-recoverable stitches for a good ten minutes; a perfect showcase of his true comic talent.
There isn’t much time to jump on board this fabulous ship and sail it through to its astonishing conclusion; you won’t want to miss Peter and the Starcatcher, who knows when the next time it will make port in Baltimore again?
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission
Peter and the Starcatcher plays through May 18, 2014 at at Hippodrome Theatre—12 North Eutaw Street in downtown Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 547-7328, or purchase them online.