By Connie Shakalis | H-T Reviewer Oct 28, 2017
We had better see these Indiana University Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance performers while we can at IU’s reasonable ticket prices, because I have a feeling many of them are Broadway-bound.
The cast of “Peter and the Starcatcher” is all adults, but for those 23/4 hours, many of them become, believably, 13 again. These types of roles — broad and Disney-ish — are easy to wreck by actors mugging or upstaging their colleagues. But no one does. Every crazy character shines through and gives us a jolly good time.
The play, written by Rick Elice with music by Wayne Barker, is based on novels by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. Barry and Pearson are longtime friends and came up with the idea of a prequel to “Peter Pan” almost simultaneously. Great minds think alike, and besides, what grownup boy doesn’t wonder about how Peter Pan came to be?
Thanks to this imaginative writing team and IU’s talented actors, we learn just who Peter and Wendy, and additional characters, are. We learn how Wendy met Peter, how difficult life can be in an orphanage (”Orphan Rule Number One: Life is meant to be horrible”), how pirate captains rely on their first mates and how Peter got both his first and last names.
And what a good time we have getting educated.
Where were all the 10-year-old boys in the audience? This show surely speaks — bellows — to them. I saw only one or two Friday night but hope herds will attend later. We saw a little boy eating live worms; pirates spitting on people and branding others with a hot iron; a flying, vicious stuffed cat; an officious malapropian pirate captain constantly mispronouncing words (politely corrected by his first mate); boatloads of puns and, of course, many a flatulence joke. (I thought, “Who really thinks these are funny?” then noticed my husband laughing at each one.)
Yes, the show begs for preteen boys, but it’s just as good for us grownups, even though Peter makes it abundantly clear that he “hates, hates, hates” them. I admit my weakness for plots with mix-ups: letters sent to the wrong people, misunderstood messages, etc. In “Peter and the Starcatcher” two trunks, one loaded with power-inducing “star stuff,” get transposed. Finding and relocating the special one becomes the play’s mission, obstructed by brutish (and flatulating) pirates and island natives.
Michael Bayler, as pirate captain Black Stache (as in his copious facial hair), is uproarious. He hates children, loves himself and accidentally cuts off his right hand in his greed. A jewel, he. As sycophant Smee, Black Stache’s first mate, Caleb Curtis scrapes and bows and keeps us laughing (and thinking of people we’ve known?). He’ll do almost anything to please his boss, and he is darling. Lisa Podulka as the out-of-place, well-bred Molly is just right. She plays the quintessential “strong girl” without being predictable or harsh. Excellent.
Joshua M. Smith plays Prentiss, the orphan boy who longs to be the group’s leader — and a lawyer. He charms. IU freshman Connor Starks yanks our heart strings as the ever-hungry Ted. “Pork, sticky pudding,” he dreams. And I felt hungry. Mrs. Bumbrake and Teacher were portrayed well by Jay Hemphill. The former, Wendy’s nanny, is more interested in finding a good man than nurturing her charge, and she is funny. Peter Pan himself is played by a good Trevor Purkiser. Once again, the entire cast had nary a weak link.
Scenic and costume design are by Alana Yurczyk and Courtney Foxworthy, respectively, and their creativity shone. We were startled by a red-eyed, green-toothed, orange-tongued crocodile; felt almost, really, sea sick as the ocean churned on the backdrop; and shared the claustrophobia of the ship’s orphans’ quarters. As the pirates parade as fish-become-mermaids, we were treated to headpieces and bras made of toilet paper, dishwashing gloves, bottle brushes, Bubble Wrap and soap dishes. I love a good prop.
Murray McGibbon’s direction kept us rapt throughout this lengthy production, and Ray Fellman’s music direction added harmonic spunk and atmosphere.
My advice is to see these students now, because Broadway tickets are $110 and more, and that’s where some of them are going.
If You Go
WHAT: “Peter and the Starcatcher” by Rick Elice.
WHO: Indiana University Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance.
WHERE: Ruth N. Halls Theater, 275 N. Jordan Ave.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday.
TICKETS: $10-20. Call 812-855-1103 or visit theatre.indiana.edu