Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Peter And The Starcatcher
Initially, Peter Pan barely exists at all, in this "prequel" to J.M. Barrie's famous tale of pirates and the boy who wouldn't grow up. Yes, Spencer Davis Milford is perfectly up to the challenge (initially known only as "Boy"). But in this tale he's fresh out of an orphanage and likely to be sold into slavery as quickly as possible. The boy doomed to remain an ingénue is even less formed at curtain rise, so Peter and the Starcatcher is, necessarily, pretty much just The Starcatcher for the first 75 minutes or so.
The second very minor hurdle is that the rest of uswell, most of the rest of us in the audiencehave had to grow up. It's a bit embarrassing for grown men, at least until act two, to be seen at an event so clearly aimed at doting grandparents, young parents, and their children (who were severely underrepresented the mid-week night I attended). The ladies in the audience seemed to enjoy the show throughout, and ultimately you'll be glad you came too.
With so young and malleable a hero as the "Boy," it falls to bright and breezy Betsy Hogg (as the "starcatcher," Molly Aster) to lead the way, with all her British little girl confidence, through a horde of delightfully comical pirates, and off to meet their destinies.
All aboard are kept afloat by the wit of Dave Barry, one of the co-authors of the novel, along with St. Louisan Ridley Pearson. Like almost any prequel, a lot of the action is devoted to setting up the older, better-known work, especially in act two. And not to be mean, but only about one in three of the jokes on stage actually caught fire with the audience at the performance I attended. But you always need those other 2-out-of-3 less successful gags as kindling for any comedy.
In the meantime, we are delighted by Jeffrey C. Hawkins as the pirate captain Black Stache (who will lose a hand in a ghastly but ultimately hilarious work-related accident) and equally won over by the suggested presence of a great alligator on the island, among other things. Peter's arrival on the island, at the end of act one, marks an entirely new feel for the story, and all our spirits suddenly begin to rise.
Mr. Hawkins, as the future Captain Hook, bears a likeness to the infamous 19th century actor John Wilkes Booth. And that adds a bit of spice to his antic disposition. Imagine Booth, never having to live in the shadow of his actor father and actor brother, becoming a much more playful person, and there you have Jeffrey C. Hawkins. You may not realize it at the time, but he and his madcap pirate lieutenant Mr. Smee (Jose Restrepo) are actually carrying at least half the show, in terms of workable laughs. Arturo Soria picks up much of the burden later, as "Fighting Prawn," once everyone reaches the beautiful and mysterious island.
Director Blake Robison captures the legendary honor and nobility of the British of the 19th century, whether it's in the performance of Clinton Brandhagen as Molly's protective father, or with Sean Mellott and Andrew Carlyle as Peter's friends: Dickensian orphans finally tasting the joy of life, after a dramatic incident at sea.
From there on out, it's smooth sailing. The play is fully transformed by Mr. Pearson's storytelling, which suddenly comes to a head; and by Mr. Barry's comedy, and a lot of relentlessly clever actorsalong with just a bit of stage magic, as well.
Adapted for the stage by Rick Elice, with music by Wayne Barker, Peter and the Starcatcher runs through December 27, 2015, at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. For more information visit www.repstl.org.
The Players (in alphabetical order)