“Peter and The Starcatcher,” playwright Rick Elice’s imaginative Broadway prequel to “Peter Pan,” lives up to the hype. The music-infused play has the gleeful irreverence of “The Book of Mormon” without the profanity. It has the gusto of “Spamalot” and the feel of a fanciful campfire story.
Elice has created a frothily funny new work based both on the children’s novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson and well as on J.M. Barrie’s original play. “Starcatcher” is set aboard two ships and on Mollusk island. Peter (Joey deBettencourt), an orphan, and his protective friend and potential love interest, Molly (Megan Stern), outwit enemies such as the pirate Black Stache and the ravenous crocodile Mister Grin.
The well-timed production that opened Tuesday at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis has an excellent cast that dives into the material with confidence and clarity. They are in the moment but always with a sense of play as they show us how Peter Pan came to be the boy who never grows up, and how Wendy is the real heroine of his life.
Co-directed for maximum humor by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers, “Starcatcher” makes allusions to Shakespeare, Walt Whitman and the R&B diva Kelis (whose milkshake brings all the dogs to the yard).
The production uses story theater to deliver its narrative. Miniature props, lighting and sound effects are expertly deployed to take us into a time and place where pirates roamed the seas, mermen with coconut breasts sing siren songs and a ship called Never Land gets sunk.
Things actually started off in moderate fashion at the Orpheum, especially since deBettencourt, as Peter, was merely good, not a standout, at the outset. Fortunately for him (and us), his cast-mates hit all their notes in that first act. Spitfire Stern is a ball of fearless precocity as Molly. John Sanders is over-the-top funny as the preening Black Stache (he milks a show-stopping moment too long, but it’s still very funny).
One thing should be noted: In choosing to have a nearly all-male company — Molly is the only female actor in a cast of 12 — the creative team highlights difference. So, Molly becomes representative. And the lone black figure on stage (played by Jimonn Cole), also is marked by difference. When he holds a spear, that loaded image should not remain unexamined in a show that is as charming as it is hilarious.
Rohan Preston 612-673-4390.