It’s easy to be swept up into the magic of “Peter and the Starcatcher,” the “Peter Pan” prequel that opened Saturday at the Ritz in Minneapolis.
Director Joel Sass’ staging of this music-infused play for Theater Latté Da is often captivating, with well crafted small bits that explode into delirious fun, though the first act is a bit overlong. Playwright Rick Elice, who wrote this adaptation from a 2006 novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, could have used a judicious editor to make the first act hum with the verve, vitality and juice offered in the second act.
Like “Wicked,” which grew out of “The Wizard of Oz,” “Starcatcher” takes its cue from a classic text, specifically J.M. Barrie’s fantasy about a boy who never grows up. The show offers a fantastical back story about how Peter Pan, Molly, Captain Hook and the others came to be, and how Peter Pan developed his aversion to the adult world.
Set in the 19th century during Queen Victoria’s reign, “Starcatcher” involves sailing ships, a trunk full of treasure, pirates, magic and an island of aggrieved people once sold into British slavery. This is the first local staging of the Tony-winning work, which played Minneapolis in 2014 on a national tour.
The stage at the Ritz is chock-full of things seemingly rescued from a demolished Victorian home. That deconstructionist style is present not only in Sass’ set design, which includes the innards of a piano as well as sundry musical instruments, but also in Sonya Berlovitz’s seemingly slapdash costumes. These elements ground the play in a simple world where anything is possible.
Tyler Michaels, who played Peter Pan to acclaim at Children’s Theatre in 2014, plays the adult-averse Boy. He offers innocence and magic in a staging that combines English music hall with vaudeville. Using simple props and puppetry as they make inventive sounds, members of the acting ensemble hook our imagination.
Pearce Bunting hams it up as the malaprop-prone, scenery-chewing pirate captain Black Stache while Megan Burns gives 13-year-old Molly precociousness and power. She and Andre Shoals, who plays Molly’s father, the ship captain Lord Aster, have one of the funniest scenes in the play when they communicate in Norse code — a Viking antecedent to Morse code that Aster has taught his daughter. (He’s also taught her Dodo and Porpoise.)
Other notables include Adam Qualls as Smee, Black Stache’s bumbling first mate; Ricardo Beaird and Silas Sellnow as orphans Prentiss and Ted; James Rodriguez as scary Slank, and Craig Johnson, whose chaste Mrs. Bumbrake, Molly’s caretaker, is a sight to behold as she draws roars of laughter in a show full of joy.