By CRISSI LANGWELL
(This guest post is by my colleague, Crissi Langwell, who describes herself as “an avid fan of anything related to Peter Pan.” Crissi is an online content producer at the Press Democrat and the book blogger at books.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. RD)
There’s magic in Spreckels Theatre Company’s production of “Peter and the Starcatcher.” The Tony award-winning play by Rick Elice (screenwriter of the movie, “Jersey Boys”), based on the similarly-named novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, utilizes a small cast of characters in this local production to tell a big story of pirates, magic and how Peter Pan came to be.
Small is the operative word. The performance is held in the Bette Condiotti Theater at Spreckels Performing Arts Center, the smallest theater in the building, while a cast of 11 actors takes on more than a hundred characters. However, this tiny stage is what adds to the magic of the story. Performed in such an intimate setting, the audience becomes a part of the play as the actors bring the story to life. The stage is easily believed to be two dueling ships, a tumultuous ocean and a mystical island filled with mermaids, natives and a ticking crocodile.
“Peter and the Starcatcher” is the prequel story to the Peter Pan story we all learned in our childhood. Taking place in the time before Neverland was an island, the play begins at port before two ships — the Wasp and the Neverland — are to embark on a voyage to the remote kingdom of Rundoon. Both of these ships are to carry a special trunk. One is a trunk full of starstuff, a magical substance that can fulfill dreams. The other trunk is a decoy filled with sand. The starstuff is to travel aboard the Wasp, the fastest boat in the ocean, with Lord Aster, a starcatcher appointed by the queen to be the trunk’s custodian. The decoy is to travel aboard the Neverland, a much slower vessel, with a crew of British Navy seamen, three orphans and Lord Aster’s daughter, Molly. However, the trunks are swapped unbeknownst to the starcatcher, and the starstuff is now aboard the Neverland with the 13-year-old Molly as its protector. This proves to be beneficial, however, when it’s discovered that the Wasp has been overtaken by pirates, led by the sinister Black Stache. When the truth of the swapped trunks comes to light, the voyage becomes a battle as those aboard both ships fight for the coveted starstuff, and an array of magical incidents ensues.
This prequel story offers explanation to a few key details of J.M. Barrie’s original story of Peter Pan. We learn about the magical beginning of Neverland, the island. We learn how Peter Pan transformed from a nameless orphan to the leader of the Lost Boys. We even learn how mermaids and fairies came to be.
Director David L. Yen’s vision for this Tony award-winning play is played out brilliantly by Spreckel’s Theatre Company, along with live music by Lucas Sherman and Quinten Cohen. Larry Williams portrays a playfully evil Black Stache, playing to the audience with entertaining sneers and asides. Molly’s nanny, Mrs. Bumbrake, is one of the highlights of the story with her unique presentation. Denise Elia-Yen as Molly captures the innocence and determination of a 13-year-old with a solid mission. Each actor gives a strong performance, pairing song and dance with witty storytelling, and capturing the crowd from opening to close. The story plays to an audience of children and adults alike, with a few surprises that will entertain all.
“Peter and the Starcatcher” continues at Spreckels Performing Arts Center (5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park) through Dec. 18. Performances are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays and a 7:30 p.m. performance on Thursday, Dec. 15.
Tickets are $16 for children 12 and under, $22 for students, $25 for seniors and youth, and $26 general admission. SSU and SRJC students can also purchase $12 tickets 10 minutes before curtain of any performance.
Reserve tickets by contacting Spreckels Box Office by calling 707-588-3400. For more information, visit spreckelsonline.com.