The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up carries a longstanding theatrical tradition — with Peter Pan typically played on Broadway by a female lead such as Mary Martin, Sandy Duncan and Cathy Rigby. Now, Northern Arizona University Theatre sprinkles some fairy dust on the timeless children’s classic with its production of “Peter and the Starcatcher.”
This latest version of the Peter Pan myth arrives via a play with musical elements based on a similarly titled book and series by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. The storyline serves as a prequel to the “Peter and Wendy” narrative first written in the early 1900s by J.M. Barrie, as “Starcatcher” becomes Peter’s origin story.
“The fascination with Peter Pan is huge,” said Kathleen McGeever, the NAU Theatre chair and director. “I think it’s that innocence within the story and how we crave that. Peter Pan shakes off that Dickensian world, and he is able to survive and maintain that innocence and joy … In this story (“Peter and the Starcatcher”), it’s also about all of us belonging to something bigger than ourselves.”
The NAU Theatre Company production of “Peter and the Starcatcher” opens at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, April 21 at the Clifford E. White Theatre in the Performing Arts Building on campus. The production has six performances running from April 21-30, with one matinee performance on Sunday, April 30 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $8-$14. Learn more at www.nau.edu/cal/theatre/.
“This is a monster of a show,” McGeever said. She explained that the sets, costuming and 12-member cast playing multiple parts and the choreography adds to the complexity of directing and staging. “It took forever to stage this show. More than I’ve ever spent … it took almost a month to get it on its feet.”
The production involves around 60 key props that have to be in place before the curtain goes up. The set also includes two levels, with an upper deck accessed from the main floor of the stage via multiple ladders and ropes.
It’s a grand finale of a play — with elements of a musical via two numbers and accompanying piano and percussion during scenes as an underscore — for the last show of the theatre’s 2016-17 season. McGeever has been excited to bring “Starcatcher” to life as a family-friendly theatre event. It contains no foul language and only a few of the jokes will go over kids’ heads, McGeever noted.
The Tony-Award winning play by Rick Elice turns into a high-seas adventure with Peter, the Lost Boys, pirates, mermaids and more, according to a synopsis of the play.
A young orphan and his mates are shipped off from Victorian England to a distant island ruled by the evil King Zarboff. They know nothing of the mysterious trunk in the captain’s cabin, which contains a precious, otherworldly cargo.
At sea, the boys are discovered by Molly, a Starcatcher-in-training who realizes that the trunk’s precious cargo is “starstuff,” a celestial substance so powerful that it must never fall into the wrong hands.
“It’s a great story and a lot of fun,” McGeever said. “Molly (played by junior Sonja Usher), who is Wendy’s mom from the original Peter Pan story, becomes the hero. She’s the one who solves everything and is the one who helps Peter.”
The cast also includes senior Marco McKay, who plays Mrs. Bumbrake, Molly’s nanny, as one of the other few female roles — though in this case is played by a male. McKay’s role, as well as Black Stache, a sinister pirate chief played by senior Kishan Batcheldor, bring some great comic moments in the play.
“Face foliage be more than lawn on a lip,” Black Stache bellows at one point in the show, as he launches into a celebration of facial hair that plays off of the pirates’ love of whiskers of all varieties. Much of the humor comes with these kinds of odd wordplays and back-and-forth exchanges among characters. This blends with moments of slapstick and physical comedy.
The homage to the Peter Pan myth, the magic of theatre of the imagination and dramatic and comic storytelling in “Peter and the Starcatcher” is likely to bring a crowd-pleasing and rousing highlight to the department’s season.