Before actually seeing it at the Kennedy Center, all I knew about Peter and the Starcatcher was that it was somehow tied into the Peter Pan story. A look at the cast list, however, revealed only one familiar character, Smee (Captain Hook’s legendary sidekick), but no Peter, Wendy, Nana, and certainly no Hook. I also knew the show had won five Tony awards in 2013 during its Broadway run. What I didn’t know was how brilliant and funny it was, how innovative it was, or how incredibly directed it was, leaving me only to question why it didn’t win all the Tony awards. It was certainly worthy of it.
Although it starts out a bit like a Shakespeare play, with the audience just trying to figure out the world in which the show is set, who is who, what is what and how the poetic language is to be interpreted, mere minutes are all that are required to become lost in the fanciful and magical world of creativity. Based on a novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, writer Rick Elice, directors Roger Brees and Alex Timbers, and a slew of phenomenal designers including Donyale Werle (set), Paloma Young (costumes), Jeff Croiter (lights), and Darron L. West (sound) have envisioned a production so innovative that it’s hard to imagine ever having to sit through any other play without being unimpressed.
What makes this show so magical is that every aspect was so tightly woven together and so carefully planned out that I was unable to separate the artistic elements. Sets, costumes, lights, sound, staging, and even the smallest of the actor’s nuanced inflections, movement, and timing were executed with such perfection in a seamless blend of theatrical components that made it impossible to identify which party was responsible for such genius. The amount of artistic planning and collaboration is evident in every facet of the show, though it is performed with such phenomenal precision and specificity without feeling rehearsed or repetitive. It felt fresh and new, with an cast who seemed to understand they were part of something special.
With 12 actors playing more than 100 characters, Peter and the Starcatcher is a true ensemble piece, with each member, who all have one primary role, also playing the myriad of bit parts and serving as the chorus, set movers, and sometimes even the set itself. Although each actor is tremendously talented, there were a few standouts, including Benjamin Schrader, playing the female nanny, Mrs. Bumbrake, delicately and femininely without resorting to the stereotypical elevated-voiced man-playing-woman Mrs. Doubtfire type. Megan Stern as Mrs. Bumbrake’s charge, Molly, was also spectacular, finding the right balance between the 13-year old character’s youthful naivety and innocence and her maturity and sense of responsibility. John Sanders, though, as Black Stache, stole the show, though, when he turned a one word line– ohmigod– into a hysterical three-minute monologue worthy of a standing ovation.
More than just for the ensemble of actors, though, the standing ovation at the curtain call for Peter and the Starcatcher should have also included the offstage ensemble of designers, writers, directors, and musicians (Andy Grobengieser and Jeremy Lowe, who provided sound effects as well as the occasional accompaniment) who made this show so successful. This is perhaps the most aggregate theatrical production I have ever seen where each individual associated with the production was equally integral and where, without each individual’s contribution, the show could not survive. Together, though, the individual components have achieved amazing life and have resulted in a unique, breathtaking, and awe-inspiring Neverland from which I hope to never return.
Peter and the Starcatcher performs now through February 16, 2014 at the Kennedy Center‘s Eisenhower Theater, located at 2700 F Street NW, Washington DC 20566. Tickets start at $55. For more information, call 202-467-4600.