By Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli
Land ho! The Tony award-winning show, “Peter and the Star Catcher,” just came ashore in Carnegie. The play is based on the young adult novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson of the same name. Think of it as tall tales with tall sails. The YA novel was adapted into a play by Rick Elice. Barry, Pearson and Elice add to J. M. Barrie’s original stories about the boy who doesn’t want to grow up.
Batten down your hatches, there’s a lot of plot to cover. When Lord Leonard Aster (J. P. Welsh) sets sail for Mollusk Island on the H.M.S. Wasp, he is charged with protecting very important steamer trunk for the queen of England (God save her!). A nefarious game of bait-and-switch causes the cargo to fall under the care of his daughter Molly (Casey Duffy) who is on a separate ship, the Neverland. The trunk contains a precious treasure, and on the high seas, treasure is often plundered by pirates. In the immortal words of Oda Mae Brown, “Molly, you in danger, girl!”
Molly and her nanny, Mrs. Bumbrake (Cody Sweet), have been consigned to their cabin (for their own safety), but that doesn’t stop the free-spirited girl from abandoning Bumbrake and exploring the vessel. The girl meets a Boy (Nate Willey). He is a capital B Boy since the orphan has no name of his own. He and his companions, Prentiss (Jake Smith) and Ted (Charles Buescher Rowell) are captives on the ship (paired down to two from the swarm of boys in the novel version). The boys are destined to be crock meat once Bill Slank (Jim Froelich) hands them over to the natives on Mollusk Island.
Enter Black Stache (Brett Goodnack) and his band of unscrupulous-yet-incompetent pirates. Molly and her newfound friends must triumph over the pirates and keep the treasure safe.
In case you were wondering the trunk contains starstuff, magical dust from a comet’s tail. The starstuff’s magical properties turn a fish into mermaid, a bird into a pixie and a Boy into a legend.
If you haven’t guessed by now, “Peter and the Star Catcher” is Peter Pan’s origin story. There are some wonderful and magical moments from Messrs. Barry and Pearson and Elice, but all three of them are no match for J. M. Barrie. It doesn’t have the heart and soul of Peter Pan, but there are some nice moments. Blame the overabundance of scatological jokes in the play. There are so many jokes about flatulence that body odor is practically a subplot.
While there’s a plethora of juvenile jokes, a gem sneaks in every now and again. There are a few particularly hearty laugh out loud moments. Guffaws are especially robust when the second act opens to a kick-line of dudes dressed as mermaids. P.S. Once all the exposition is out of the way, the second act sails along smoothly.
Not everyone is made of starstuff in this show, but I came to praise Peter not pan him. Willey does a great job as the Boy who believes in fairies. The real hero in this story is Molly and Duffy does a marvelous job as the lead.
Smith and Rowell do a fine job as Molly’s accomplices, and Sweet is hilarious as the nanny in bad drag.
But it’s the black-mustachioed villain who takes the cake, and whatever else he can lay his hand on (ten points for Gryffindor if you can guess the pirate’s true identity). The show sparkles when Black Stache is afoot, and Goodnack chomps the scenery like it’s a Primanti’s Cap & Cheese sammie after a bender. The role is meant to be wildly over-the-top and it plays to the actor’s strengths. He is boisterous, brash and silly.
Director Spencer Whale does some fun things with the bare bones stage, using actors to set the scenes with bits of rope and twine.
There is one trivial gripe of this show since it premiered at the La Jolla Playhouse lo those many years ago. There’s every indication that the show is a musical but it really isn’t. It’s a play with very few songs. Very few. Also, “Peter and the Star Catcher” should be marketed more effectively to children. It’s clearly a kid’s show trying to act older than it is. Make sure you bring the tots.
“Peter and the Star Catcher” runs till May 21 and it can be found at Stage 62, at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall, 300 Beechwood Avenue, Carnegie, PA 15106. For more information, click here. And if all else fails, it’s the second star to the right, and straight on till morning.