Just as Wicked provided the Oz backstory for new generations, Peter and the Starcatcher serves as a prequel to Peter Pan, but it uses a whole other tone.
In showing how a mopey orphan boy became the arrested youth known as Peter Pan and a creepy pirate named Black Stache evolved into the taunting, unhanded Captain Hook, this show–adapted by Rick Elise from a novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson–goes for a sardonic approach that mocks and comments on the material as it goes along.
Songs, asides, anachronisms, and Marx Brothers shtick–literally–pile up, sometimes hilariously, sometimes not, with the result being very children’s theater meets avant garde East Village ’80s drag via Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.
(That show was co-created by one of Peter‘s two directors, Alex Timbers–the other is Roger Rees–in a similarly loony but far less twinkly-eyed vein).
Peter‘s look is certainly striking, from Act One’s grey shipboard palette to the Whitney Biennial feel of the second half, complete with an eye-popping mermaid scrim and an expressionistic jungle motif.
The staging is extremely clever, using a rope, some cloth (and glove) animals, and other homemade touches to emphasize artificiality and invention in a way that’s budget friendly and creatively endearing.
And the actors are game, especially Christian Borle (Smash), who has fun as the flouncing, malapropic pirate in search of an adversary. (Borle’s hand-losing shtick is a sustained bit of hilarity as funny as anything this season and Kevin Del Aguila is delightful as his right-hand man, as it were).
The comedy varies (“You like me! You really, really like me!” Ugh) and the switch to total earnestness at the end doesn’t fly, but in digging into the roots of a familiar tale, Peter catches enough stardust, especially when it’s at its most wicked.