Before there was a Neverland, before a pirate captain lost an appendage and before there was a John, Michael and Wendy, there was a young boy that yearned for a sense of normalcy.
We all know the classic story of Peter Pan — the leader of a magical world where grown ups aren’t allowed and kids never have to age. But to tell the tale of the boy who became the Pan takes a little bit of history, a little of that magical fairy dust and most of all, imagination.
Luckily for the audiences of the opening night performance of “Peter and the Starcatcher” at the Orpheum Theatre Tuesday night, there was just enough stardust to bring everyone along for the journey.
It’s only fitting that the story of a boy who never wanted to grow up is eloquently told in a way that forces the audience to go back to the days of playtime. Minimal props, a small cast playing multiple roles and a simple backdrop with plenty of blanks for the audience to fill, propels you into a world of pretend.
Before the days of iPads and video games, there was a time when a child’s freetime was more of a state of mind than a state of play. With a few simple household items and an endless amount of creativity, there was no end to the places that a young mind could travel.
“Peter and the Starcatcher” relies on this childlike wonder and plays to the audience’s sense of nostalgia for the good ol’ days of make believe.
A simple rope acts as the walls of a far-too-small cabin of a cruising ship or the border of a staircase where the actors bring the rest to life. When it comes time to bring a monster to life, what more do you need than a few strings of bunting and a pair of glowing red lights?
Of course, it’s not to say the audience must take the sole responsibility of connecting the dots. This all-star cast truly sells the story in a way that stretches the mind and brings the audience into the fold.
The boy, who eventually becomes Peter, who eventually becomes Peter Pan is played by Joey deBettencourt, a fresh-faced Chicagoan who epitomizes innocence, a yearning for self value and the spirit of a boy who can never fully be cast aside.
The ying to his yang — or the yang to his ying — is perhaps the highlight of this delightful story. John Sanders absolutely kills it as Black Stache, the character you’d later come to know as Captain Hook. Sanders’ comedic timing is spot on — from his clumsy yet egotistical movements to his truly astounding scene where he turns three little words into a repetitive gag that completes the reverse bell curve of comedy — hilarious, slightly over played and then without warning, hilarious again.
But what’s a villain without his trusty sidekick? Stache’s, ahem, right-hand man Smee (Luke Smith) is a much more articulate version than the rolly polly cartoon character that we’ve been accustomed to. His delivery and gentle correction of his trusty captain makes you wonder who the true mastermind is, but works brilliantly in this perfect odd couple pairing.
Before portraying Mrs. Darling, a mother of three, Molly (Megan Stern) shows us the girl who turned Peter from a beaten down orphan to the confident teenager who discovers who he truly wants to be. Her portrayal carries plenty of sass, a ton of charm and the early motherly instincts that transcends generations.
It may be easy to compare “Peter” with other prequel productions, a la “Wicked,” but beyond the similar “Before they were stars” approach, the two are nothing alike. Where “Wicked” soars on its catchy Broadway hits and flashy costumes and sets, “Peter” flies solely on fast puns, imaginative fun and a mixture of narration and role playing.
The second act is tighter and more of a rollercoaster ride than the first but how can it not be with the inclusion of mermaids, Mollusks and that trusty old croc, appropriately named Mr. Grin.
This is where we see everything fall into place — how “the boy” becomes Peter Pan, where Neverland is established and why a black-stached pirate eventually trades his hand for a hook.
In the final scene of “Peter and the Starcatcher,” there’s a surprisingly touching moment. A newly discovered Peter Pan is exploring the realms of his new life and his untapped secret powers — and with that, he takes flight for the first time. For those who have grown up with the story of Pan’s next adventure, there’s an instant emotional response — one that, perhaps, will make you wish you hadn’t grown up.
“Peter and the Starcatcher” runs through March 16. For more information or to buy tickets, click here.