Encore Michigan

Penny Seats voyages with Peter and The Starcatcher

Review July 15, 2017 David Kiley

ANN ARBOR, Mich.–There is much fun and frolic in West Park here as The Penny Seats Theatre Company sails, prances and dances its way through the journey by which a nameless, angst ridden orphan boy becomes Peter Pan. The play, Peter and The Starcatcher, is a prequel to Peter Pan written by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson and adapted for the stage by Rick Elice.

The story told absolutely comes across as a mash-up between a bed-time story and a British Christmas panto, with the park patio being transformed by the ensemble of players and props and stage pieces for an ocean voyage, a shipwreck, a cargo of something called stardust, a chorus line of singing mermaids and more.

The cast becomes not only whatever individual characters are called for but also the settings through which they move: two different boats, a heaving ocean that splits and devours the Neverland ship, the bowels of the ships, the decks, and so much more.

The cast members take turns delivering the narrative, and instantly, when called for, assume the myriad shapes and personas being described. Brendan Kelly plays the un-named boy who will become Peter, and is blessed with a forever natural Puckish guise that makes his orphan boy just swashbucklish by the end to make us look ahead to the flying forever-boy that we all grew up on.

Peter and The Starcatcher, as a show, seems born out of the love of British stage farce, with the mixing of 21st century references that pepper up the period story. There is lots of dress up, and hamming of the characters to keep the storytelling loose and raucous. If there is a criticism to be made of the book, it is that the script can feel too loose in places, so much so that the threads of the narrative can get a bit lost amidst what feels like improv at times. While having a storybook quality that befits the legend of Peter, that story can feel sometimes like the teller is making it up on the spot. That, of course, is not necessarily bad as any parent who has done the same for a rapt child can attest.

The Penny Seats assembled a terrific troupe of actors to make it come alive, including: Kristin McSweeney at Molly Aster (the apprentice starcatcher); Keith Kalinowski as Lord Aster; John DeMerrell in a dual role as teacher/and Mrs. Bumbrake, with his turn in drag as the latter one of the true highlights of the evening; Matt Cameron as menacing pirate Black Stache, who prefaces the character we’ll come to know as Captain Hook (in this story, he does not lose his hand to a crocodile, but to a lid of the trunk aboard ship being shut down hard on his wrist); Jeffrey Stringer in a series of character turns; Eddie Rothermel as Bill Slank and Hawking Clam; Deborah Secord as Alf; Kim Alley as Smee, whom we will also come to meet in Peter Pan.

Peter and The Starcatcher is perfectly suitable for young audiences, though they won’t get all the comedic references and 21st century cultural touch-points aimed at making adults snicker…or groan as kids do at a Dad-joke. But they will delight in the animated energy of the characters and action before them. And of they have not read Peter Pan, or had it read to them, for the context of the story…well then, simply shame on their parents and grandparents.

Director Phil Simmons and Producer Lauren London have delivered a production that makes for a giggly delightful experience under the stars of West Park. A nod to Stephen Hankes for delivering a flawless sound execution from the microphones set up around the actors rather than using body mics, which are fraught in an outdoor setting. Costume and prop designer Ben Despard’s work also shines here, from the goofy big black stache on Blck Stache to the mermaid outfit donned by DeMerrell. Music direction is by Rebecca Biber.

The Penny Seats, which usually starts its shows at 7PM opted this time to begin an hour later in order to have the second act truly under stars. It works out just fine with lighting added to the performing area. But it also means a bit of a late night for the younger audience members. Keep them up, and bring your lawn chairs, and enjoy.

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Week of 4/23/2018

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