I’ve been asked by a few people to compile my picks for the best central Ohio theatre in and around Columbus in 2015, and so that’s just what I’ve done. I didn’t start writing about and trying to see as much local theatre as possible until June, so there are some reportedly very good productions that I unfortunately didn’t get to see. This list is based on what I saw for the second half of 2015 with one exception – Short North Stage’s Psycho Beach Party from January 2015. I didn’t write a review for it, but the fun I had at that production is still vivid in my mind year later.
For a thorough rundown of my thoughts on each show, I have linked my reviews to open by clicking on the title of each play.
Remakes, sequels, and adaptations of James M. Barrie’s Peter Pan have steadily grown in popularity since the original play premiered in 1904. There have been animated films, Broadway musicals, and many feature films about the “boy who wouldn’t grow up,” with a live television broadcast of the 1954 musical, a new Broadway musical (Finding Neverland), and a sci-fi film (Pan) all arriving on the scene within the past year alone! CATCO and CATCO is Kids! now present Peter and the Starcatcher, a prequel that relays just where Peter Pan came from and how he first encountered his nemesis, the future Captain Hook.
Peter and the Starcatcher ran for nearly a full season on Broadway from 2012 to 2013; written by Rick Elise with music by Wayne Baxter, it is based on a 2006 young adult novel written by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, the first in a series of prequel books about Peter Pan. The story concerns two ships, the Wasp and the Neverland, both bound for Rundoon; Lord Aster is on the Wasp with special cargo for the queen, and his daughter Molly and her nanny are on the Neverland, where three orphans (the future Peter Pan being one of them) have been hidden as stowaways to be sold. The cargo between the ships is swapped, and it isn’t long before the orphans emerge from hiding on the Neverland and befriend Molly, and a pirate named Black Stache hijacks the Wasp looking for the mystical treasure bound for the queen. What follows includes a shipwreck, mermaids, a hungry crocodile, a magic amulet, and “starstuff.”
The cast is extremely likable, with the standouts being Emma Cordray as Molly, Colby Tarrh as Prentiss, Mark Mineart as Black Stache, and Andrew Protopapas as Alf. Ms. Cordray has a way of being a know-it-all as Molly while also being totally correct in her pitch, rising at the end of sentences in a sing-song kind of way that fit perfectly (it annoyed the friend I attended with, but I thought it was just right); Mr. Tarrh is adorably bossy as Prentiss with a lot to do in the first act as the leader of the boys; Mr. Mineart has a booming voice and intimidating look at Black Stache, but can just as quickly turn fey and flippant, a textbook example of how to play that part; and Mr. Protopapas leaves all worry of appearing foolish behind as Alf, performing with a signature walk and carriage that could summon laughter from the audience without even really doing much of anything. His mermaid drag in the second act is particularly cute, as is that of Mr. Mineart. These four performers understand the tone of the piece the most, and they help set it for the rest of the cast to follow.
Honorable mentions are due for Danny Turek as Peter, Andrew Levitt as Betty Bumbake, and Jonathan Collura as Bill Slank. Mr. Turek may have the title role of Peter, but his character has to grow quite a bit emotionally through the piece from the backward and shy youth simply called “boy” at the beginning of the story. Having seen Mr. Turek in other plays, I can now appreciate how he holds back his natural inclination to be quite animated for the first half of the story so that he can serve the path of the character. Even when he shows more strength and aggression in the second act, Mr. Turek nicely holds back a bit so he seems more a part of the ensemble. Mr. Levitt hams it up nicely as Betty Bumbake, his flirting scenes with Mr. Protopapas a particular comedic highlight, though I do think his character would be better represented with more of a wig and costume than the slight apron and lace headpiece provided. Mr. Collura looks like Jake from “Jake and the Never Land Pirates” with his red bandana, and it’s a most amusing moment when he gets right up into Mr. Levitt’s face in a brief scene they share. Mr. Collura’s part is small, but he is also the musical director of the show, seen off to the side playing the musical accompaniment before rushing back on stage; he wears many hats comfortably and with great skill.
There is a lack of whimsy to this production that seems odd to me. There are plenty of funny moments (mostly in the second act), but the kind of wide-eyed wonder one would expect from a story about Peter Pan is absent; the sum is less than its individual parts. The show comes off as underproduced overall, lacking enough props and scenic elements to tell the story effectively, especially at the beginning and ending of the first act; the setup with the two ships and cargo, and when the two ships collide and passengers cross from one ship to another, is muddled and difficult to pinpoint exactly what is going on. I’ve seen the show before and know the story, and yet I found myself second guessing a few moments as they seemed to differ greatly from the production I saw in Dayton last June (that production had its own set of problems, but getting the story across was not one of them).
Still, CATCO’s Peter and the Starcatcher is enjoyable and ultimately rewarding to a degree, though the first act is at times difficult to get through and there doesn’t appear to be enough to look at for the kids (or adults) in the audience. When the show works, it really works; when it doesn’t, there is a pall that falls over the proceedings from which it takes some time to recover. There are some very good performances on display from an amiable cast, and this production is far from being poor; it just feels like a bit of a missed opportunity considering the source material.