By Betsy Wolfe
The Metropolis Performing Arts Center in downtown Arlington Heights presents its final summer production, Peter and the Starcatcher. Based on the 2004 book by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, the stage version was adapted by Rick Elice with music by Wayne Barker. The Broadway and off-Broadway productions from 2009-2013 elicited varied reviews. The plot revolves around the origin backstory for characters, Peter Pan, Tinkerbell and Captain Hook, serving as a prequel for the Peter Pan story. A more detailed description of the show is found here.
The performance opens with impressive scenery in the intimate auditorium. Scenic designer, Ashley Woods’ multi-leveled series of wooden platforms and walkways do quadruple-duty as the decks of two ships, a dock and a jungle. Joe Mohamed’s effective lighting, and general technical direction from Adam Liston consistently draws the audience attention onto the focus of the action, even when much is going on and many people are on stage. This is no small task.
This show is better described as a play with music rather than a musical. Most of the music amounts to underscore, with three or so all-cast songs at the end of each of the two acts and beginning of the 2nd Act. With just two musicians carrying the score, Music Director Mickey York on keyboards and percussionist Lior Shaggs beautifully accompany from a loft off to the side of an upper-deck level onstage.
The biggest directorial challenge in producing this play lies in helping the audience clearly understand who the characters are, what they’re doing and where the action is taking place. The idea that the plot follows two different ships, sailing the same course concurrently and having both ships represented by the same set with both crews represented by many of the same actors is dizzying. The story frequently goes back and forth from one ship and crew to the other, adding to the difficulty of keeping the storyline clear. Even with the well-placed staging and costume devices set up by Director Lili-Anne Brown, the storyline is sometimes tough to mentally sort out. It doesn’t matter much, however, because the nature of the script is silly, full of Monty Python-type humor and anachronistic jokes. Having to meticulously follow the plot becomes less important than the wonderful synchronicity that develops between cast and audience. Brown displays a great deal of confidence in her actors based on her choices in staging and/or character development.
By halfway into act one, the show becomes more interactive in the house. The antics of the characters become laugh-out-loud funny the more the audience gets to know them. The opening of act two is hysterical, as every character is part of an “under-the-sea” themed number. More description of that number risks the surprise, but suffice it to say that it’s quite memorable. Casual breaking of character and the fourth wall accelerates as the show progresses, as written into the clever script. Although there are many fine moments with each cast member, there are several standout performances. Michael Pine as Black Stache, Luis David Cortes as Smee, and Will Kazda as Mrs Bumbrake and the Teacher charm the audience consistently, eliciting huge responses and interactions from the house. Sarah Cartwright, as Molly, shows off delightful comedic timing and savvy in many of her bits, but especially when performing the “Norse Code.”
Peter and the Starcatcher is a night of relatively clean fun. Kids might not understand the references or follow the plot well, but adults young and old will forget their troubles and have a great time. This reviewer can heartily recommend this production.
“Peter and the Starcatcher” runs through August 20, 2017, at the Metropolis Performing Arts Center, 111 W Campbell St.in Arlington Heights. More information and tickets are available here.