Sunday, April 15, 2012

THEATER: Peter and the Starcatcher

There's a star being caught in Peter and the Starcatcher, and it ain't the unnamed Boy (Adam Chanler-Berat) who will, by play's end, become Peter Pan. Which is not to say that Chanler-Berat and his cohorts, Carson Elrod and David Rossmer ("We're lost!" "Boys!" runs one of the knowing quips in the show) aren't entertaining, nor that these enslaved orphans' would-be savior, the precocious thirteen-year-old Molly (Celia Keenan-Bolger), isn't a self-important hoot. But in this prequel, lovingly and creatively adapted by Rick Elice from the loving and creative novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, the star is, as ever, our delightfully villainous Captain Hook -- or should I say, Black Stache (Christian Borle), since it's not until a remarkable, scene-stealing moment late in Act II that he is "disarmed." "You've single-handedly rendered me single-handed!" he sputters, after huffing and puffing and flailing about. Wails Smee (Kevin Del Aguila), technically no longer a "right-hand man" -- the puns keep coming -- "I'm stumped!"

Yes, Peter and the Starcatcher is a whimsical riot of a show, never a dull moment about, and the high energy and inventive staging from Roger Rees and Alex Timbers reminds one of Jolly-Ship the Whiz Bang, only without the puppets. (Just look at the eccentric islander, Fighting Prawn [Teddy Bergman], and tell me he doesn't seem like an animated character, so convincing is he.) In minimalist style, characters double for scenery (doors) and ropes are twisted, twirled, and tightened into narrow corridors, undulating waves, and fearsome teeth, but the show never feels threadbare, and it easily fills this Broadway stage. For instance, Jeff Croiter's remarkable lighting deserves more than a nod: his color schemes and separations make for the most epic sea-battle ever performed with miniatures. The same can be said of Donyale Werle's weathered, wooden stage, which shows both age and beauty -- and some surprising color in Act II.

And yet, for all this, everything comes back to that super-nova of a performance being given by Mr. Borle (who is already the best thing about Smash, the NBC TV show that he currently stars in). Not only does he enhance any ensemble he's a part of (there's a delirious mermaid sequence), but he solidifies all of his solo sequences, making quick work of the script's alliterations and even quicker work of his character's own perpetual flubs ("Abandon spleen!" he cries, as the Neverland begins to sink). It takes an expert at physical comedy to appear to be so effortlessly clumsy, be it his attempts to strike a pose or simply to rhyme in verse, and though he jests that iambic pentameter would be box-office poison, I expect that a healthy dose of Mr. Borle is antidote enough to salvage any scene. (That explains why Peter and the Starcatcher is so much honest-to-goodness fun: there are no scenes in need of salvage.)

Peter Pan brags that he'll never grow up; with theater as good as this, audiences will never have to.

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