Magical is the most apt description of J.M. Barrie’s timeless creation of Peter Pan. So, it’s not surprising that the entertaining Peter Pan prequel Peter and the Starcatcher, winner of five 2012 Tony Awards and adapted by Rick Elice (Jersey Boys, The Addams Family) from Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s 2004 bestseller, enjoyably retains the adventurous awe grounded in Barrie’s foundation while being completely refreshing due to the sheer amusement of putting the origin pieces of the Pan puzzle together.
In this Victorian tale, Peter is an orphan, a lost boy, downcast and dejected on the high seas aboard the Neverland where he meets Molly and her father Lord Aster, two Starcatchers proficient in the knowledge of starstuff, an enchanting sand-like substance that can give people and animals special powers. At all costs, Peter and Molly seek to protect the special trunk of starstuff from the villainous Black Stache and his band of pirates. After a violent storm causes the Neverland to shipwreck, Peter and Molly find themselves on Mollusk Island, where a gang of natives, an iconic crocodile and a terrific climax elevates Peter’s story to warmhearted heights. As an added bonus throughout the spirited action, rousingly and imaginatively staged by Bruce Cromer, colorful British Music Hall-esque songs by Elice and composer Wayne Barker arise, particularly the lively vaudevillian Act 2 opener.
The versatile Will Graber, a knockout in WSU’s productions of First in Flight and Crazy for You, is outstanding in the titular role in both physicality and emotional depth. Absolutely capturing the joy, innocence and hopefulness of youth, even when running, tumbling or falling in midair, Graber’s performance is magnetic and expressive, especially in the soaring Act 1 finale in which his face beams and his strong tenor can be heard as Peter rapturously sees his future home in the distance. Lauren Kampman, a standout last season in The Liar, is a dynamic, strong-willed Molly, effortlessly endearing, perfectly matched with Graber, and keenly aware that her character can’t survive simply on sentimentality. As Black Stache, Josh Aaron McCabe, WSU Professor and Guest Artist who skillfully directed The Liar, attacks his plum role with equal amounts of pompous swagger and egotistical goofiness, effectively swelling to a fantastic reveal concerning the character’s need for a certain hook. Julie Dye and Dean McKenzie are humorous as Peter’s jovial cohorts Ted and Prentiss. Louis Kurtzman (Lord Aster) and Kenneth Christian Erard (Slank/Hawking Clam) provide earnest authority and imposing intimidation respectively. Having portrayed mostly serious roles, Kaitlyn Campbell, a memorable Kattrin in last season’s Mother Courage and Her Children, loosens up with abandon as Molly’s nanny Mrs. Bumbrake and specifically the all-knowing mermaid referred to as Teacher who clearly did not attend the Billie Burke School of Whimsical Prophecy. Christopher Wells (Scott), Sophie Kirk (Alf), Ethan Evans (Grempkin/Mack/Sanchez/Fighting Prawn), and comical Jake Jones (Smee) complete the energetic cast, attractively costumed with period finesse by Michelle Sampson and Victoria Gifford.
Cromer’s top-notch artistic team includes dialect coach Deborah Thomas, sound designer Lara Sagraves, lighting designer Autumn Light, music director Matt Ebright with musician Kevin Anderson (bolstering the action with clever pop culture underscoring from composers such as John Williams, Henry Mancini, James Horner, Richard Rodgers, and the Sherman Brothers), properties by Terry Webb, and the particularly eye-catching, storybook-inspired contributions of scenic designer Pam Knauert Lavarnway, filling the stage with an assortment of scaffolding, trunks, crates, boxes, ladders, planks, tropical foliage, and more.
If you’re used to the version of Peter Pan tunefully reminding you to “think of lovely things and your heart will fly on wings,” I encourage you to take a different flight this time and savor the discoveries within this charming, family-friendly showcase.
Peter and the Starcatcher continues through Oct. 6 in the Festival Playhouse of the Creative Arts Center at Wright State University, 3640 Col. Glenn Hwy., Dayton. Act One: 70 minutes; Act Two: 60 minutes. Performances are Oct. 3 at 7 p.m., Oct. 4 and 5 at 8 p.m., and Oct. 5 and 6 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $25 for adults, $23 for seniors and $15 for students. For tickets or more information, call the Box Office at (937) 775-2500 or visit wright.edu/theatre-tickets.