Bank of America Theatre. By Rick Elice. Directed by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers. With ensemble cast. 2hrs 30 mins; one intermission.
Theater review by Kris Vire
There are a handful of fanciful childhood narratives from the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th that seem almost endlessly inspirational to our deconstructing and remixing culture. Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland books, L. Frank Baum’s Oz series and J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan have generated enough offshoot media to reach to Neverland and back. (Perhaps if our copyright laws ever allow anything later to enter the public domain again, others will join them, but that’s another story.)
The enduring ubiquity of Barrie’s creation is a point that the very entertaining Peter and the Starcatcher winkingly acknowledges, when John Sanders’s future Captain Hook tries to sell Joey deBettencourt’s newly christened Peter Pan on an anti-partnership as each other’s hero and villain: “Time will be our treasure! Books! Movies! Broadway…in Chicago!”
Sanders and deBettencourt are both actors of Chicago vintage, which made that little insertion all the merrier at the touring cast’s first Chicago performance. Appropriately, Peter and the Starcatcher feels more Chicago than many Broadway in Chicago presentations, and not just because locals Nathan Hosner and Harter Clingman and understudy Nick Vidal are also representing in the touring company.
Like that juggernaut Wicked, Starcatcher takes the revisionary prequel route; based on a YA novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson (published by Disney, which also has a hand in the stage adaptation), the story offers a scenario of how Peter and his Lost Boys got lost in the first place.
But unlike Elphaba and company’s grandiosity, Peter and the Starcatcher acknowledges its own storytelling, with the actors starting off as themselves before they begin to sink into character, while still recognizing the theatricality of their environs. Co-directors Roger Rees and Alex Timbers embrace an ensemble narrative ethos (it’s no surprise the intricate movement design is by Steven Hoggett of Black Watch and Once) and a DIY, found-object production aesthetic that make the show feel like a House Theatre of Chicago or Lookingglass Theatre project goosed (though unostentatiously) with Disney dollars. (And both of those Chicago companies have, of course, done their own takes on Peter Pan in recent years.)
The first act of Rick Elice’s adaptation can feel a tad slow in its painstaking establishment of a large clutch of characters and tracking the parallel voyages of two ships headed for a run-in. But Act II, which takes place post-shipwreck and really begins to dig into building on Barrie’s mythology, is almost nonstop delight.
It’s a great pleasure to see deBettencourt confidently commanding a house the size of the Bank of America Theatre after seeing him for the last four years in 100-seat joints; he and Megan Stern, as the piece’s forceful young British heroine, have a terrific back-and-forth. But it’s Sanders’s swaggering aspirant pirate Black Stache who steals the show—by design; when his Smee (Luke Smith) suggests a rampaging, overgrown crocodile is “chewing all the scenery,” Stache reverses his retreat: No one’s chewing this scenery but him. And Sanders tackles this physically and comically demanding role like he hasn’t eaten in a week.