Review: Inventive staging, sharp direction highlight somewhat tepid ‘Starcatcher’

Peter (Joey deBettencourt) and Molly (Megan Stern) mix adventure with the discovery of love in "Peter and the Starcatcher," through Dec. 1st in San Francisco. (Photo by Jenny Anderson)
Peter (Joey deBettencourt) and Molly (Megan Stern) mix adventure with the discovery of love in “Peter and the Starcatcher,” through Dec. 1st in San Francisco. (Photo by Jenny Anderson)

There is certainly an enchantment when it comes to the various stories of the Peter Pan saga. The tales and tribulations of a young boy who fights mightily to hang onto his youth while those around him exit childhood and enter a new phase has always cast a gentle spell on audiences young and old alike.

The newest Broadway tour of Peter Pan prequel “Peter and the Starcatcher,” anchoring at the Curran Theatre until Dec. 1st, is at its best when it showcases its sharp direction by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers. The directing duo does much to bring life to Rick Elice’s script, adapted from the original story by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. A simple rope becomes daunting waves on the high seas, stuffed cats become stuffed flying cats, and an imagination is a requirement for everyone who takes heed in this fantastical fairy tale.

However, while the staging and many individual performances were grand, not every aspect of the show is able to maintain its grip on engagement. The show feels too long, especially act two, and while the story is certainly joyous, it also becomes a bit too convoluted. And while plenty around me found plenty of laughs for the belly, the humor seemed too slapsticky and silly for my personal taste.

The story follows the young boy, simply called Boy (an energetic and engaged Joey deBettencourt) as he fights his fate of becoming an adult. He meets Molly (A charming and forceful Megan Stern), who is protecting a treasure chest full of star magic from the evil and dastardly Black Stache (brilliance from John Sanders).

The strength of the show is its wit and fluidity. Only 12 actors, eleven men and one woman, unleashed a barrage of pop culture references and inside theatre jokes that hit the mark in most cases, and became a bit trite in others. The cast also played more than 100 characters, and the staging from Rees and Timbers was certainly quick and full of effective transitions.

The script is smart to really place Molly as the heart of the piece. Stern’s heroine is easily the most likeable and pragmatic of the characters, a tender foil for deBettencourt’s Boy, and also showcases so much tender heart. She is on a noble quest with the help of her distinguished father Lord Aster (a regal Nathan Hosner).

As for the script, there were plenty of childish sight gags, some things which felt way overdone, and other things that were flat-out brilliant. While I got a bit tired of some of the endless flatulence gags, other anachronistic references were quite brilliant – holding medals a certain way for a better signal, as well as Starbucks and the puzzlement of Ayn Rand. There was also a brilliant reference to the enigmatic concept of the fourth wall.

Sanders’ foppish villain Stache was an absolute show stealer, dancing and prancing throughout the stage with villainous glee. He made every scene more interesting, and his ditty as he enters the world of Captain Hook, with a zillion ways to say “Oh My God” was pure comic gold.

Of the nine Tony nominations the show received, “Peter” won five, mostly in the technical categories. Wonderful work by winners Paloma Young (costume), Darron L. West (sound), Donyale Werle (scenic) and Jeff Croiter (lighting) was on full display, further enhanced by wonderful percussion sounds that helped to create each world.

“Peter and the Starcatcher” does plenty of things very right. While not everything was high on the ability to compel, there are certainly things that make the show sharp. Coming to the theatre ready to pretend certainly helps.

WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO

SHNSF presents “Peter and the Starcatcher”
Written by Rick Elice
Based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
Directed by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers
The Word: A show that runs too long, yet features some sharp direction in addition to Sanders and his show-stealing Stache.
Stars: 2.5 out of 4
Through Dec. 1st
The Curran Theatre
445 Geary Street, San Francisco, CA
For tickets, call (888) 746-1799 or visit www.shnsf.com

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