Monday, June 27, 2016

Theater Review: Peter & The Starcatcher -- CT Repertory

Gregory Webster (Alf) and Jason Bohon (Mrs. Bumbrake) and Raegan Roberts (Molly) in “Peter and the Starcatcher” by Rick Elice onstage June 23-July 2, 2016 at Connecticut Repertory Theatre.  Info at crt.uconn.edu.  Photo by Gerry Goodstein.
Starstuff Glimmers in Shining Peter Pan Prequel
By Lauren Yarger
I didn’t think anyone but Christian Borle, who won a Tony award for his performance, could make me laugh so hard at something so horrifying as losing a hand, but I was wrong.

Michael Doherty, turning in a hilarious portrayal of the pirate Black Stache, soon-to-be Captain Hook in the Peter Pan story, has the audience in stitches over at Jorgensen Theater where Peter and the Starcatcher is receiving a strong production as part of CT Repertory’s Nutmeg summer Series.

Doherty commands the stage pirate style and delights with the humor in Rick Elice’s script, Based on the Novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson (in turn based on the Peter Pan story by J.M. Barrie). The fanciful production, directed by Vincent J. Cardinal, tells the story of Peter before he became Pan. If you ever have wondered why he didn’t want to grow up, how he hooked up with the Lost Boys -- led here by Ted (Ryan Shea) and Prentiss (Scott Redmond) – or how Captain Hook lost his hand, be prepared to find out.

The abused orphan boys find themselves aboard the Neverland, a ship captained by the notorious Slank (Forrest McClendon) bound for an island where they will be slaves or worse. Also aboard is Molly Astor (Raegan Roberts) a junior Starcatcher, who is helping her father, Lord Astor (Mark Blashford ), aboard another ship, safeguard the queen’s stardstuff – parts of stars that have magical and dangerous power to turn people what they most want to be. 

Communicating in ancient languages and through some sort of telepathy made possible by stardust contained in amulets they wear around their necks, father and daughter work to keep the queen’s treasure out of the hands of Black Stache and his pirates, including Stache’s right-hand man Smee (an entertaining Jonathan Cobrda).

Meanwhile, Molly’s nanny, Mrs. Bumbrake (played for some reason by a male, Jason Bohon) finds unexpected romance aboard ship with flatulent sailor Alf (Greg Webster). Everyone ends up in conflict with angry natives, led by King Prawn (McClendon) on an island following a shipwreck. The storytelling is enhanced by choreography by Roberts, colorful and fanciful costumes by Christina Lorraine Bullard and Music by Wayne Barker (it is conducted by Jose C. Simbulan who leads a two-person band).

All of this plays out on a rag-tag set (designed by Tim Brown with Lighting Design by Michael Chybowski, Sound Design by Michael Vincent Skinner and Technical Direction by John W. Parmelee) where ropes suddenly become the sides of a ship, a ladder, some lights and cloth flags transform into a hungry crocodile and actors morph into squeaky doors. It’s enchanting and dare I say it, I think I enjoyed this production even more than the national tour that came through the Bushnell in 2014.

One criticism. Someone couldn’t resist throwing a in a dig about Donald Trump. It seemed out of place and unnecessary. What would have been fun, however, would have been to throw some commentary in about Britain having just voted to withdraw from the European Union the day I saw this production. Several lines in the vein of “it’s a bad day to be an Englishman” were just ripe for this and seemed almost flat without some kind of comment on current events. Priorities, I guess.
While the show is fun, there’s a darker side to it (Peter is beaten, for example) and it contains some gems of thought to ponder. Overall it’s entertaining whether or not you are a fan of Pan.

Peter catches starstuff through July 2 at the Harriett S. Jorgenseon Theater on the Storrs UConn campus. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm. Matinees at 2 pm Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Tickets $12 to $55: www.crt.uconn.edu; (860) 486-2113.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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