Were it not for a little five-year-old girl asking her daddy, “How did Peter Pan meet Captain Hook,” the story may never have been imagined. The question got writer Ridley Pearson to thinking, and together with pal Dave Barry, they crafted a best-selling adventure that eight years later, Rick Elice, Roger Rees and Alex Timbers made into a Broadway play about how a 13-year-old boy came to be Peter Pan and all the characters he meets along the way.
With an imagination as big as the universe, the creators have broken the mold and turned Broadway, and now Denver, upside down with their wildly entertaining spectacle that is part melodrama, part Monty Python, part inspirational (“To have faith is to have wings”) and a little bit of slapstick. Hold onto your pixie hat. . .this is not your mother’s musical.
You know right off something is different when you see the ornate gold proscenium framing the stage of the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. Look closely: this Victorian entrance to Peter’s fantasy world is made up of recycled stuff like bottle caps, wine corks, can lids, silverware, small toys and beads collected from the tour venues and repurposed by scenic designer Donyale Werle, who is active in Broadway Green Alliance. She uses discarded materials for the set, too, winning a Tony award for her inventiveness, as did costume designer Paloma Young, lighting designer Jeff Croiter and sound designer Darron L. West.
Together, this enormously talented team teases our imaginations into seeing action: a pitching ship, the jaws of a crocodile, birds flying and waves of the ocean by creative use of sound, light, fabric, a rubber glove and a simple rope—and wonderfully gifted actors. The cast is lead by Joey deBettencourt (Boy/Peter Pan), Megan Stern (Molly, the only female in the cast and the “starcatcher.” The precocious teenager vies to be the leader of the lost boys. “We girls can’t afford to be sentimental; we must be strong.”) and John Sanders (Black Stache, the credible boo-hiss villain). Sanders feeds off the audience in a hilarious scene when he cuts off his hand by slamming the lid of the treasure chest on it (hence, Captain Hook).
Clever word play comes fast and furious, sometimes too fast. Listen carefully to the leader of the island natives in the second act who “speaks” Italian: lasagna, focaccia, linguine. Plenty of sexual innuendos keep the production teetering on R-rated; hopefully the kids in the audience won’t get it. The mermaids in drag in the opening scene of the second act are comical.
The first act introduces the characters aboard two ships and how the precious cargo—a trunk containing “starstuff”—gets into the wrong hands. It’s confusing and moves quickly, but the spot-on precision of the ensemble moving together keeps it engaging.
This is one of those productions you leave thinking you’ve got to see it again to catch what you might have missed.
Peter and the Starcatcher plays the Ellie at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday—Sunday (except Aug. 18) through September 1 with 2 p.m. matinees Saturdays (except Aug. 17), Sundays and August 29. For tickets, call the box office at 303-893-4100 or visit www.denvercenter.org.