By Dale King
Lake Worth Playhouse has opened its 69th season with a frenetic production of Peter and the Starcatcher, a paean to Peter Pan that offers up a plausible prequel to J.M. Barrie’s 1904 children’s fable, elaborating on the tale of “The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up” by focusing on friendship, leadership, fealty and a few other add-ons.
The hectic performance combines creative stage settings with limitless imagination to mentally fashion a couple of tall sailing ships. The two twin-masters, the Wasp and the Never Land, set sail – one bearing a treasure of incredible value that must reach its destination. The other ship contains a decoy container to fool would-be thieves.
Along the way, the ships encounter treacherous battles with angry buccaneers, foreboding thunderstorms and a blitz of savage natives armed with weapons made from kitchen utensils.
This crazed comedy might best be described as Spamalot meets Pirates of the Caribbean. The show is sometimes hard to follow, particularly in Act 1, but the story does settle in.
Lots of people worked on this tale of a nameless orphan and his two friends – known as “The Lost Boys” – who endure the rigors of a topsy-turvy shipboard escapade. The orphan eventually takes the name “Peter,” the surname “Pan” and prepares to fly onward and upward in life’s journey.
To make this more elaborate story come to life, two contemporary authors — Ridley Pearson and Dave Barry – set sail in their own personal Wayback Machine to revisit the original Peter Pan story and retell it, adding explanatory information and answering queries left unanswered by Barrie.
Sabrina Lynn Gore, director of the LWP performance, says in her program notes that Pearson “got the idea for the story when his daughter asked: ‘How did Peter Pan meet Captain Hook in the first place?’” The writers, she said, “took their sense of unfettered fun and imagination to the page and, thus, the journey began.” What evolves is a new and more fleshed-out journey, one crammed with comic additions and farfetched situations.
Conceived for the stage by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers, and written by Rick Elice, with music by Wayne Barker, this production is less a musical and more of a play with occasional added tunes. Veteran musician Roger Blankenship provides the appropriate accompaniment.
At sea, the boy who becomes known as Peter (Jorge Amador) and his friends (Seth Suchy, Daniel Powers) are befriended by sweet, sophisticated Molly (Lara Palmer), the precocious daughter of Lord Aster (Jon Hinostroza), captain of the Wasp. Molly and her dad communicate via a lighted green amulet to make sure the precious cargo trunk doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
The container is filled with Starstuff, a celestial substance so powerful it can fulfill dreams –- something the boys will come to discover. When the ship is taken over by pirates – led by the fearsome Black Stache (robustly portrayed by Rhett Pennell) — the journey takes an even more thrilling turn
Peter and the Starcatcher is generally interesting, but is really too long for the adult viewers and kids who have to stay up past bedtime. At two-and-a-half hours, split by a single intermission, the plot is slow on the uptake and the finale is more of a relief than a conclusion.
It’s clear Barry and Pearson have overstuffed the script with quips, puns and skit comedy, even though a lot of bits are funny and worth hearing. Molly and her dad communicate using “Norse Code” instead of Morse Code. Also, when someone calls the savages “ruffians,” one of them answers: “No, we’re not. We’ve never even been to Ruffia.”
The show does frequently glow with sterling performances. Amador is gently and innocently determined as the up-and-coming Peter Pan. He makes the most of his journey, searching for -— and eventually finding —- his hero within.
As Molly, Lara Palmer is bold and definitive, clearly a leader in a show that speaks about the concept of leadership, but only nails it with actions.
Pennell is excellent as Black Stache (think of the pirate Blackbeard). He hams it up with plenty of glee, but he’s always front and center —- and helps keep some of the helter-skelter skits together.
Singer/actor Gore is beginning to get her sea legs –- no pun intended –- as a director, adding Starcatcher to a previous pair of LW shows she helmed.
Peter and the Starcatcher is playing through Oct. 24 at the Lake Worth Playhouse, 713 Lake Ave., Lake Worth Beach. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 561-586-6410 or visiting www.lakeworthplayhouse.org.