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Peter and the Starcatcher

This unusual tale of the origins of Peter Pan is winningly acted and inventively staged.

Matt D'Amico, Rick Holmes, Isaiah Johnson,
Adam Chanler-Berat, and Christian Borle
in Peter and the Starcatcher
(© O&M Co.)
The winning company who brought Rick Elice's Peter and the Starcatcher to life Off-Broadway at New York Theatre Workshop last year have now landed on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. And much like the show's young hero, Boy (Adam Chanler-Berat), nothing in their work shows any sign of having aged an iota. Their performances remain youthfully snarky and mischievously vibrant in this zestful show.

Based on Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson's young adult novel Peter and the Starcatchers, the play imagines the origin of J.M. Barrie's legendary character, Peter Pan, as he finds himself on his first adventure on the high seas, alongside the teenaged Molly (Celia Keenan-Bolger) and her father Lord Aster (Rick Holmes), who have undertaken a secret mission on behalf of Queen Victoria.

The far-flung adventure unfolds within the confines of a lavishly gilded false proscenium arch from scenic designer Donyale Werle, whose inventiveness for the piece's many locales, sumptuously lit by Jeff Croiter, knows no bounds.

Indeed, the entire piece is inventively staged by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers -- aided by the synchronized and stylized routines that have been created by Steven Hoggett, all of which is underscored by Wayne Barker's almost silent movie-like original music, played live by artists sitting in the boxes at either side of the stage. When the play calls for an elaborate chase through the woods, it actually appears as if the company is running up and down hills, dodging vines and swarms of insects.

But even as theatergoers enjoy the production's many fancies, they must also endure the ungainly collision of innocent whimsy, hip sarcasm, and sophomoric humor that pervades the evening, causing hairprin shifts in tone.

Keenan-Bolger delivers a thoroughly winning turn from as the precocious, smitten, and frightened Molly. There's not only an astute blend of innocence and preternatural maturity in her performance, but also she shares an extraordinary chemistry with Chanler-Berat, who imbues Boy with a deft combination of slacker nonchalance, bitter nihilism, and genuine youthful exuberance.

The show's scene stealer remains Christian Borle, playing Black Stache, the pirate who will become Captain Hook. Looking and acting a bit like a foppish villain from a 19th-century melodrama who's been crossed with Charlie Chaplin, Borle continues to attack the role with comedic abandon, although he has modulated his turn gently, so that it often seems funnier than it did originally.

The principals' work is ably supported by a host of finely crafted performances, notably Arnie Burton, who delights as Molly's randy governess; Kevin Del Aguila who charms as the dimwitted Smee; and Carson Elrod and David Rossmer who prove to be bittersweet joys as Boy's snarky -- and hapless -- orphan companions.