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A CurtainUp DC Review
Peter and the Starcatcher

I hate grownups.—Peter Pan
John Sanders as Black Stache leads the national tour of Peter and the Starcatcher currently playing at the Kennedy Center. (Photo by Jenny Anderson)
It was inevitable: the little show that grew into a Tony-winning Broadway hit now on a national tour is currently playing the cavernous Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater. While it would probably be more pleasing to see it in a smaller venue, the reality of commercial theater makes a larger house a necessity. (New Yorkers had an opportunity to see it at the intimate New York Theatre Workshop, then in a Broadway house from which it moved back to the off-Broadway New World Stages)

Peter and the Starcatcher, is a play by Rick Elice, based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, with music by Wayne Barker. It's about what happens to a group of orphans, including the lost boy who becomes Peter Pan. With references to fairy tales such as the three little pigs and sleeping beauty, one might think that this prequel to the perennial favorite Peter Pan is for children. It's not. It is for adults who are willing to kick back, to be a bit childish for two and a half hours and admire the imaginative goings on before them.

Pastiche comes to mind as a description of what transpires. The show's combination of many forms of humor — from music hall to vaudeville, old gags to contemporary references, word play to sight gags, Groucho Marx to Monty Python, and some deliciously awful puns. Twelve actors take on some 50 different characters and most make a fine ensemble. One or two miss the mark with their attempts at English accents, but all move nimbly and with great speed.

The show is at its best when John Sanders as Black Stash takes center stage. He's a marvelous comedian somewhat reminiscent of Monty Python in his graceful movement and dead-on timing. If some of his schtick goes on too long — oh my god does it go on too long — the fault is surely the directors'.

Nathan Hosner's Lord Aster (is that a play on the name of the aristocratic Astor family or a typo?) is suitably imperial and imperious. No wonder his daughter Molly, played by Megan Stern, is precociously gung ho. Stern lives up to her name, facing every challenge that comes along with guts.

Benjamin Schrader is hilarious as the prim and proper Mrs. Bumbrake, whose costume includes an apron, handbag dangling from a limp wrist and a series of silly but very funny headbands. In fact, all Paloma Young's costumes are very well executed, particularly at the beginning of the second act.

Appropos of almost nothing except the plot does call for pirates, hidden and then lost treasure and the feeling of alienation in a foreign land, beginning with a hilarious song and dance routine of men in drag mermaid costumes with huge bosoms made out of what looked like kitchen gadgets. After that though, as we are taken through Peter Pan's back story, the show lags. Joey deBettancourt is sweet enough but lacks the inquisitiveness, the implike qualities and sense of wonder one associates with the boy who wouldn't grow up.

Scenic Designer Donyale Werle has created a wonderfully Victorian proscenium arch that contains the action. With very few props such as a ladder, some buckets, a row of flags, a couple of ropes both he has made it possible for the actors to create many very clever visuals that are delightfully lit by Jeff Croiter. High above the orchestra pit in crow's nests on either side of the stage, two musicians provide a treasure trove of musical sound effects and the occasional bit of music by Wayne Barker.

The combination of Movement Director Steven Hoggett and John Sanders' Black Stache is a marriage made in heaven. Hoggett also gets the actors superbly synchronized in some very swift and often laugh-enducing scenes.

What begins as a somewhat confusing tale, peaks with the ludicrously funny mermaid song, then gets boring. Directors Roger Rees and Alex Timbers keep the show moving quite fast in the first act but the second is way too slow. Never mind, I'm still giggling.

Peter and the Starcatcher

Play by Rick Elice based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
Directed by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers
Scenic Design by Donayle Werle
Costume Design by Paloma Young
Lighting Design by Jeff Croiter
Music by Wayne Barker
Movement by Steven Hoggett

Cast: Joey deBettencourt (Boy); John Sanders (Black Stache); Megan Stern (Molly); Harter Clingman (Alf); Jimonn Cole (Slank); Nathan Hosneer (Lord Aster); Carl Howell (Prentiss); Benjamin Schrader (Mrs. Bumbrake); Luke Smith (Smee); Ian Michael Stuart (Captain Scott); Edward Tournier (Ted); Lee Zarrett (Fighting Prawn).

Running time: 140 minutes with one intermission.
Kennedy Center/Eisenhower Theater, Washington, DC ;; tickets $60 to $145; 202-467-4600; January 28 to February 16, 2014.
Review by Susan Davidson based on January 30, 2014 performance.
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