Peter & the Starcatcher

The Columbus Dispatch

Peter and the Starcatcher offers an exuberant romp for almost all ages.

CATCO and CATCO is Kids’ area premiere of the Broadway and off-Broadway hit, which opened Friday in the Riffe Center’s Studio One Theatre, is staged, designed and performed with great panache and tongue-in-cheek humor.

Under Steven Anderson’s deft story-theater direction, the nimble 12-member cast brings to life pirates, mermaids, an unformed young Peter Pan and other Victorian characters with gleeful cleverness.

Rick Elice’s Tony-winning adaptation, based on Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s bestselling 2004 novel about Neverland before Peter Pan, works so well because its style and spirit merge seamlessly with its legendary substance.

Reflecting the wit of the British-panto-style play with music, the actors enlist the audience’s imagination by employing only a few vivid props, mischievous slapstick and wordplay that shamelessly incorporates several puns and strikingly modern allusions.

Emma Cordray anchors the show emotionally as teenage Molly, a “starcatcher” with a mission to protect a trunkful of magical “star stuff.” Cordray exhibits a pluck and clarity of purpose that gives the lost boys a worthy model of heroism to emulate.

Mark Mineart, a Broadway pro in an impressive CATCO and Columbus debut, relishes embodying the larger-than-life melodrama and hunger for villainy of Black Stache, the plummy precursor to Captain Hook.

Danny Turek plays young Peter with a lanky athleticism and wistful yearning for wide-eyed adventure. Colby Tarrh and Conor Moore triple the boyish energy onstage as Peter’s “lost” companions.

Andrew Levitt steals scenes with gender-bending conviction as Betty Bumbrake, an English teacher who somehow fuses saucy seduction and high propriety.

David Harewood is amusing and nuanced as Stache’s sidekick Smee, while Terrence Brown adds brio to the role of Captain Scott.

There isn’t a weak link in the supporting cast, which includes Brad Barbin as a noble Lord, Andrew Protopapas as impish Alf and Stephen Hanna and Jonathan Collura in multiple roles.

Eric Barker’s rustic scenery, Doug Northeim’s golden-hued lighting and Marcia Hain’s flamboyant period costumes help make a magical world seem as hyper-real as a Magritte painting.

The designers, director and ensemble deserve a big hand — though no one should be surprised if Mineart’s stumped Stache steals it.

By the end of the playful two-act — which runs a bit long for the very young at two hours and 15 minutes, including intermission — you may not quite believe that Peter Pan can fly, but you’ll want to believe.

Columbus Underground

CATCO’s Peter and the Starcatcher is Charming and Dazzling

CATCO, in a rare union of their adult (CATCO Is Theatre) and children’s (CATCO Is Kids) programs, opened a winsome, charming production of Peter and the Starcatcher last weekend.

Part of the pleasure of this kind of play is seeing how the signposts we know from the original children’s tale get inserted, used, teased out and subverted. This production, directed by Steven Anderson, does a spectacular job of making these appearances, these flashes of recognition, feel earned and feel organic to what’s happening right then on stage, and Anderson gets the most out of a remarkable cast.

Emma Cordray’s Molly is perfect, not one note struck wrong, a believable take on the too-smart-too-soon-almost-friendless child but with an honest belief in the goodness of the world and an assurance that things will ultimately work out if you try hard enough. Danny Turek’s Peter has a fascinating, deserved anger at the world, again and again teetering on the brink of discouragement and self-destruction as he says “Grownups always lie,” brought back by Molly’s good spirit and the faith of his friends, played beautifully by Colby Tarrh and Connor Moore.

In the adult side of the coin, Jonathan Collura’s cynical antihero is the rock of the piece, a grounding in the reality of the setting and a baseline around which the absurdity can bounce without ever getting thrown. Collura also does double-duty as Music Director, frequently manning the piano when not on stage. Andrew Levitt’s caretaker/surrogate mother to Molly is a vision of strength and slapstick and Levitt’s love interest played by Andrew Protopapas gets some of the biggest laughs in this very funny play. Mineart’s Black Stache and Harewood’s Smee are a delightful comedy duo, with Mineart performing that age-old tradition of the fourth-wall-shattering, self-aware villain, both invested in his own myth-making and deeply conscious of the absurdity of what’s happening at any time.

While this adaptation, and Anderson’s production, never loses sight of the original story’s parable about what we lose in growing up and how sad that can sometimes be, it’s never didactic or heavy-handed. It can be read as a lighter take on the perils of imperialism and arrogance that were dealt with so sharply in The Elephant Man. The focus is always rightly kept on the pratfalls and rapid-fire wordplay. It’s full of delightful old-school stage effects, ropes standing for a ship and indicating how the waves throw it, characters hanging upside down, flying hinted at without ever quite going there.

The humor relies a little too often on easy anachronism but far more of the jokes land than miss. It feels a little too long for as fast-moving as much of it is, at two and a half hours there are moments that drag. And the use of music seemed strange, occasionally breaking out into full songs, but not usually using those songs to develop character or advance the plot, could have been off-putting to certain ears though they were executed very well. Those quibbles aside, Peter and the Starcatcher was a crowdpleaser and a delight start to finish.