Theatre Review: ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’ at MusicalFare Theatre

The cast of ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’ at MusicalFare Theatre. Photo by Jesse Sloier.

From heart-wrenching films to questionably cast live television musicals, it seems as if every piece of the Peter Pan story has been thoroughly exhausted. However, “Peter and the Starcatcher,” dubbed as “a grownup’s prequel to Peter Pan,” is a fresh and exhilarating play with music currently onstage at MusicalFare Theatre.

This production is pure magic.

The play was penned by Rick Elice, based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, with music by Wayne Barker. Through a jam-packed two-and-a-half hours, we learn the backstories of almost everything and everyone in the Peter Pan story. The reveals are too enjoyable to give away in this review, and even with modern cultural references and musical sampling, they fit right into the story of Peter Pan.

Director Chris Kelly has assembled a masterful ensemble of twelve, all of whom seamlessly transition from character to character – 100 of them, to be exact. They are skilled comedians, vibrant singers and above all, incredible entertainers. They navigate through an incredibly fast-paced, costume and prop-heavy production with ease and incredible flair. Everyone pulls their own weight and it is truly a spectacular ensemble piece.

If there was ever an actor I could watch for hours on end, it’d be Steve Copps as Black Stache. With the attention to detail and layers of personality he explores as this hilarious character, you’d think he’d been preparing for this role his entire life. This is surely one of his best performances with one character voice clearly reminiscent of Tim Curry in his heyday.

I bow to Renee Landrigan. She’s sassy, awkward and sweet as Molly, going from insane physical comedy to a heartwarming scene in the blink of an eye. She’s the bright light of this production and is what keeps the audience connected to the heart of the show.

Other standouts include Jesse Tiebor as The Boy and Anthony Alcocer as Slank/Sanchez/Fighting Prawn. The cast is rounded out by Jacob Albarella, Bobby Cooke, Kevin Craig, Philip Farugia, Jordan Levin, Jesse Tiebor, Daniel Torres, Doug Weyand, and Preston D. Williams. Farugia also served as music director and plays a myriad of instruments to accompany the cast.

The production quality, like the cast, is out of this world. Chris Schenk’s set is gorgeous under Chris Cavanagh’s lighting design, specifically in the underwater scenes. Coupled with his sound design, both are incredibly successful at transporting the audience to this magical faraway place. I’d also be remiss not to commend the mammoth efforts of costume designer Kari Drozd and hair, makeup and wig designer Susan Drozd. They tackled a LOT of pieces for this show and provided that extra sparkle that made this production unforgettable.

“Peter and the Starcatcher” is pure magic and a promising kickoff to MusicalFare’s 27th season. Do yourself a favor and escape to this production before it closes.

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes including intermission

“Peter and the Starcatcher” runs through October 8th at MusicalFare Theatre. For more information, click here.

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In Rehearsal with ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’ at MusicalFare Theatre

For any theatre company, somewhere between picking and promoting a season of shows and opening night, a production is born. For the cast of “Peter and the Starcatcher,” soon to be onstage at Musicalfare, this means perfecting British, Scottish or pirate accents, finding their Zen in multiple roles, and learning how to be water. As in waves upon the ocean. In a raging storm. Using fabric. As director Chris Kelly said to his aqua-actors during rehearsal, “make it flow, and sweep you up…”

It’s all part of the infamy, calamity, fraternity of this musical that tells the story of how Peter Pan (the character, the boy who won’t grow up) came to be and the enchanted island that is Neverland. For Musicalfare, this is a regional premiere and the perfect showcase for the comedic and musical expertise of some of the region’s finest actors.

Director Chris Kelly is working with a cast of 12 who all play multiple roles. Many roles. Even cross-gender roles. For Kelly, “that’s the theatre I love,” he says. “What really excites me is ensemble driven theatre, where the audience has to use their imagination. That’s the theatre I find really exciting.”

Watching Kelly direct his cast – in the upstairs rehearsal studio with music director Phil Farugia at the piano and only a rendering of the set for visual inspiration – you can see this emerge.  Some actors are off book, some aren’t and, they’re pacing through the last scene in act one. It’s a big scene (20 pages, Kelly says, almost its own playlet), and there’s a lot going on. With the water flapping and surging, you’re drawn into this choppy ride, and the actors  – using their words and actions – are showing you with a shipwreck looks like. And sounds like. And feels like.  At times, actors toss out a suggestion to Kelly, about where to place their hands or how to move. Kelly says, “I’m very open to hearing people’s ideas, but they have to filter through my crazy imagination, and be cohesive.”  He says, “The actors are creating everything, creating a storm, a ship breaking in two. We’re not bringing in a lot of set pieces. The actors have to be the ship, and be the door, and bring the audience along.”

Creating that strong visual image is essential:  if the dialogue and music advance the story, it’s the imaging that actually shows the story. Throughout the rehearsal, Kelly reminds his cast “we’re making a picture” to reinforce this. “All of the pictures in the show are so important,” he says. Chris Schenk’s set design is very abstract and on levels, so it’s up to the actors to create the images against that abstract background. Kelly says, “That’s what theatre is: moving pictures.”

For actor Renee Landrigan, she enjoys playing her multiple roles, partly because it’s something she doesn’t get to do very often. “I’m Molly, a pirate, and a mollusk,” she laughs. And in one scene, she jumps “overboard” onto the linked hands of her castmates.  She says, “I like a good balance: this is a great cast and story.”

Director Kelly agrees: “A wonderful thing about this show is the heart. It keeps reinventing itself”

“Peter and the Starcatcher” is onstage at MusicalFare, September 6 to October 8, 2017. Visit www.musicalfare.com for tickets and details.

Promotional Consideration provided by the Theatre Alliance of Buffalo.