Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
December 27, 2013
Don’t you wish, sometimes, that you could just walk – or fly – away from the interminable obligations of adulthood? That’s part of our endless fascination with Peter Pan, the boy who refused to grow up.
In its gazillion stage and screen adaptations, it proves to be a ripping good adventure, where people believe in fairies, orphans find a mother and Bad Guys get their due.
The 1904 J.M. Barrie original was a lot darker than most later versions, and as you might expect, the 2006 Dave Barry/Ridley Pearson novel, “Peter and the Starcatcher ,” is a lot sillier. This prequel, adapted for the stage by “Jersey Boys” creator Rick Elice , shows how Peter got his name – and his ability to fly. And how Captain Hook lost his hand – a gruesome but hilarious conception.
Four years ago, the theatrical version originated here, in the Page to Stage work-in-progress program of the La Jolla Playhouse. Now, after major revisions and Off and On Broadway runs that included five Tony Awards, it’s come to L.A. on a national tour, still under the imaginative directorial baton of Roger Rees and Alex Timbers.
In its early incarnation, the second act was a muddle, hastily trying to tie up loose ends. The first act, though, was a jaw-dropping wonder of theatrical magic. It was presentational story-theater, making ingenious use of a length of rope to convey ships and sails, waves and boxes and rooms. The reworked version scales back that cunning originality. The first act is more talky , and the whole feels more like English music hall, with skits, faux reverence for the Queen and the requisite men in drag – particularly a pointless second-act opener with bare-chested male mermaids in rubber-ducky bras.
In general, the script is tighter, filled with smartass asides and hip cultural references. The 12 actors are agile, assuming scads of characters in a flash. The style still invokes audience complicity; we need to contribute our imaginations to make it all work – and that’s thrilling. But amid the speedy, sharply choreographed mayhem, I missed the magic.
The cast is good and game, but not fabulous and unforgettable. I sorely missed Christian Borle , who won a well-deserved Tony for his uproarious turn as Black Stash, the bumbling, malaprop -spewing pirate who becomes Capt. Hook.
I don’t think I’ve grown up any more since I first saw the show. I was more than ready for the unbridled ingenuity of the piece. It’s still clever, but not mesmerizing.
One of its highlights remains Molly, the indomitable adventuress at the center, whose fearless leadership earns her full Starcatcher status at the end.
With its live music and sound effects, its wily, multi-layered script that has something for kids of all ages, it might just bring a little hopeful, wistful magic to your old year and new.
“Peter and the Starcatcher ” runs through January 12 at the Ahmanson Theatre in L.A.
©2013 PAT LAUNER