Peter and the Starcatcher Opens 96th Season

by Bob McLaughlin and John Lieder

Everyone knows how to get to Neverland: take the second star to the right and straight on ‘til morning. But to find out how Peter Pan first got to Neverland, you’ll have to see Peter and the Starcatcher, the first play of Community Players’ 96th season.

Adapted by Rick Elice from the young adult novel by humorist Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, Peter and the Starcatcher provides the unexpected backstory to Peter Pan. Lord Leonard Aster and his daughter Molly embark on a secret mission for Queen Victoria: to deliver a trunk of starstuff—a magical dust that must be collected as it falls to earth—to the island of Rundoon, where it will be destroyed in the world’s hottest volcano. But a duplicate trunk, a band of orphans—including an unnamed Boy (hint, hint)—a dishonest captain, and a ship full of pirates led by the notorious Black Stache complicate the mission beyond measure. Suffice to say, this is one of the few shows in which you’re likely to see a flying cat, mermaids, and a fully staged shipwreck before all the plot’s secrets are revealed.

Peter and the Starcatcher had its world premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse outside San Diego in 2009. After some revision, it opened for a limited run Off-Broadway at the New York Theatre Workshop in the spring of 2011. The next year it transferred to Broadway, opening at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on April 15, with a cast that included Christian Borle (who won the Tony Award for Best Supporting Actor), Celia Keenan-Bolger, and Adam Chanler-Baret. With a rave review from the New York Times’ Ben Brantley, who praised the production’s inventive stagecraft, it ran for 319 performances, after which, in an unusual move, it reopened Off-Broadway at the New World Stages, where it ran for another ten months.

Our production features a very talented, balanced ensemble in which all twelve cast members take on multiple roles in addition to their main characters. Featured are newcomers Noé Cornejo Herrera and Sarah Hall in the title roles as Peter and Molly (the Starcatcher), respectively. Len Childers portrays their mustachioed, Malaprop-prone nemesis, Black Stache. Peter is joined by two fellow-orphans: Ted, played by Jackson Thorpe, and Prentiss, played by newcomer Joshua Ghantous.

Alan Wilson plays Molly’s father, Lord Leonard Aster, John D. Poling plays the Black Stache’s sidekick, Smee, and Tom Smith plays Molly’s nanny, Mrs. Bumbrake. These three are Community Players veterans and each has directing experience at CP as well as a plethora of acting credits; they provide the production with a solid base.

Completing the cast are Jason Cook as Ted, Sage Brown as Captain Robert Falcon Scott, Samuel James Willis as Fighting Prawn/Mack/Mr. Grempkin/Sanchez, and Jeff Ready as Bill Slank/Hawking Clam.

Director Brian Artman has an infectious passion for this show. Not only does he get to share that passion with the cast as director, he also gives vent to this passion as the production’s set designer. Act I is set aboard (and overboard) two ships: the Neverland and the Wasp. In Act II, the action takes place on deck, below deck, and off the deck; as well on the beach and in the jungle. So the set, “Mollusk Island,” needs to be very flexible and as such, suggests these various locations. Brian Aitken’s lighting design is effective in supplementing this set design and establishing mood. In addition, the cast is called on to provide human set pieces such as creaking doors, and they creatively use rope to suggest the rolling ocean, cabin rooms, and even a boxing ring. The two ships in motion are represented by intricately crafted 3-foot long schooner models built by Jeremy Stiller.

Peter and the Starcatcher is billed (and priced!) as a play, but it includes a significant amount of music. In fact, Act I ends and Act II begins with relatively lavish production numbers. Chad and Sherise Kirvan, therefore, have loaned their talents as music director and choreographer, respectively. Opal Virtue is costumer, and she gets the challenge of dressing the cast as orphans, sailors, pirates, island natives, a lord, a captain, a nanny, and a stage full of beautiful (not!) mermaids. Penny Wilson is makeup and hair consultant. Jennifer Bethmann is in charge of properties and has come up with creative representations of such things as birds, a flying cat, and a giant crocodile. Eli Mundy and Erin Box are in charge of the sound design, which includes well over 100 sound cues for music and effects. John Lieder is the producer. Jennifer Maloy is assistant director and stage manager. Ashleigh Feger is house manager. Hannah Artman rounds out the creative team as production consultant.

The pay-what-you-can Preview performance is Thursday, September 6, with regular performances September 7-9 and 14-16. (Two weekends only!) While this production should appeal to audiences of all ages—silly, physical and funny for the little ones; smart, clever, and touching for the adults—there are a few instances of simulated fighting and violence within the production, which may not appeal to our youngest of patrons.


Photos by John Lieder