Director Jewels: Peter and the Starcatcher at the Kansas City Kauffman Center {Review}

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Peter and the Starcatcher at the Kansas City Kauffman Center {Review}

Disclosure: I received press passes to attend this production from Theatre League Kansas City. I received no other compensation and all views expressed are my own.


"...Life'll be so beautiful that no one will ever say sorry again - 'cause nobody'll have to."

I wasn't sure what to expect of Peter and the Starcatcher, an origin story for the timeless and witty boy who never grew up. My husband has read the book on which the production was based, but I have not had the chance yet - so for me, this was entirely new material. There ended up being a great deal that I liked, a few things I disliked, and several moments that turned me into a blubbering fool.

Here's a little "official" info about the show:

PETER AND THE STARCATCHER, the most magical evening of madcap fun, is now on tour!  Hailed by The New York Times as "THE MOST EXHILARATING STORYTELLING ON BROADWAY IN DECADES," this comedy takes a hilarious romp through the Neverland you never knew.  The winner of 5 Tony Awards®, this swashbuckling prequel to Peter Pan will have you hooked from the moment you let your imagination take flight. PETER AND THE STARCATCHER  is the innovative and imaginative comedy based on the best-selling novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson.  A company of a dozen actors play more than a hundred unforgettable characters, all on a journey to answer the century-old question: How did Peter Pan become The Boy Who Never Grew Up?  This epic origin story of popular culture’s most enduring and beloved character proves that your imagination is the most captivating place in the world.

The PETER AND THE STARCATCHER company.
Photo by Scott Suchman

We were treated to comfortable seats and an amazing view of the Kansas City skyline, thanks to the venue choice: Kauffman Center. This was our first chance to visit this venue, and we were not disappointed! I'm scheming for reasons to go back. The sound quality in the performance hall was lovely, and we didn't even have to wait a long time to get out of the parking garage at the end of the night! The stage is smaller, but this show, in its somewhat minimalistic design, adapted well.

The show follows Molly Aster and her father, Lord Aster, as they embark on a voyage to transport a trunk filled with some sort of treasure to a faraway island. They end up on separate ships: the Wasp and the Neverland, and it becomes Molly's mission to keep the trunk from falling into the hands of some greedy pirates. Molly, while skirting the watchful eye of her nanny, Mrs. Bumbrake, cheerfully signs on as the leader of a trio of orphans who have been sold into captivity.

Peter (Bryan Welnicki) and Molly (Aisling Halpin).
Photo by Scott Suchman

Act I starts off a little slow, requesting that the audience to learn a lot of names and situations to follow along. The pace picks up after a bit, and I overall thought the cast had great comedic timing, so I got lost in the story. The cast features only twelve actors, who play all of the characters in the story (over one hundred). Molly (Aisling Halpin) is the only female in the ensemble cast, which works in most regards, but did create a few strange moments during the romantic sideline story of Mrs. Bumbrake and Alf, as well as the Act II opening which features a gaggle of singing mermaids. I'm pretty conservative and can understand how a lot of people may find these staging choices in poor taste, but I also get creative casting and I think it works for the most part. That said, it's probably not a show that I would find appropriate for my kids until they are in high school or older.

The show does not take itself too seriously, and is filled with references to modern culture that audience members may or may not understand. I appreciated the shout outs to other Broadway productions, particularly.

The PETER AND THE STARCATCHER company. Photo by Scott Suchman

Stand out cast members included Bryan Welnicki (Boy), who told us Peter's history with a perfect balance of curiosity and resentment, Molly (Aisling Halpin), who had just the right amount of precociousness to make her thirteen-year-old character believable, and Joe Beuerlein (Black Stache), who had the majority of the audience either laughing or groaning at the delivery of his exaggerated jokes.

I was captivated by the use of a simple rope to convey doorways, waves, a broken mirror, and a giant crocodile. The use of creative lighting and the ensemble cast contributed to the very unique and minimalist set and gave me many ideas to use in future productions myself! Most impressive were the scenes where the cast was used as multiple doors in a hallway.

The only scene I truly did not care for was the seemingly never-ending reaction when Black Stache finds himself without a hand. The audience cracked up at his repeated irreverent wailing, moaning, and shouting - for awhile. But by the time it finally came to an end, there was more of an anxious spirit in the house, followed by a collective sigh of relief when the story finally moved on. And while I found the mermaids-in-drag scene to be a little over the top for my personal taste, I did really love the costume design and the use of sparkling fans as mermaid tales!

Prentiss (James Crichton), Peter (Bryan Welnicki)
and Ted (Nick Lehan). Photo by Scott Suchman

All in all, it's a spunky production with a lot of heart. Even without loving every aspect, I'm glad to have seen it for the chance to explore the unique and interesting design and the emotions of the characters. They brought me to tears near the end with "...it's supposed to hurt. That's how you know it meant something."

The PETER AND THE STARCATCHER company. Photo by Scott Suchman

Peter and the Starcatcher plays now through April 5 at the Kauffman Center. Tickets are available online.

Thanks to the Kansas City Broadway Series for providing my tickets to the show. I received no other compensation and all views expressed are my own. For more information, you can read my Disclosure Policy.

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