WEST VALLEY CITY — Everyone loves an origin story. However, I have to admit, I am getting a little tired of seeing Batman’s parents getting killed outside of a theatre over and over again, a radioactive spider biting Peter Parker’s hand, or baby Superman slamming into the Kansas prairie. As much as I’m getting a little worn out of origin stories, the Tony award-winning Peter and the Starcatcher is this type of origin story: how did Peter Pan become Peter Pan? How did the Lost Boys arrive on the island? Who is Captain Hook and how did he lose his hand? Questions like these are all answered in splendidly spectacular ways in Hale Centre Theatre’s latest crowd-pleasing adventure, Peter and the Starcatcher.
Whether it was due to opening week jitters or a fast rehearsal schedule, the pacing of the first act felt jerky. Many directors choose to break up each major scene into smaller bits called “beats”. During the first thirty minutes, I could distinctly feel the beginning and end of each beat, making the flow from moment to moment, beat to beat, a little choppy—kind of like when you’re driving with your grandparents and they brake several times before a stoplight. I couldn’t tell if this was a directorial choice, but I may have connected with the characters sooner had there been a smoother start to the play.
Visually and technically, Peter and the Starcatcher was up to audience expectations for the Hale. From the costumes, lighting, and props, to the foley artist’s sound effects, this production is a beauty. The costumes, designed by Peggy Willis, were simple, effective and never distracted from the story. Special note must go to the prop designer, who with surprising efficacy, visually represented the child-like awe of creating a play with friends in an attic or basement, as all the props were either made out of old clothes, like the jungle vine or thrown away stuffed animals (including an unmissable cat). The only let down was that the production team did not choose to use the famous lift mechanisms the West Valley Hale is known for, though there was ample opportunity to do so. This was most likely a choice from the director, Dave Tinney, to give the audience a chance to use their imagination, however.
Additionally, many of the actors chose to perform their roles with thick English, Scottish, Irish, and Pacific Islander (?) accents. Although this is not a bad artistic choice, there were just some moments where I couldn’t understand what they were saying. I actually heard audience members around me verbally say out loud, “What did he say?” It might be worth having the cast enunciate a little better as they choose to use such heavy accents.
The show had a slow start to the show may be due to Rick Elice‘s script, based on a novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. The inciting incident for the two main characters didn’t happen until mid-way through the first act when The Boy/Peter (played by Kooper Campbell) discovers a secret about Molly Astor (played by Brighton Hertford) who entrusts The Boy to aid her on a mission. Storytelling aside, Hertford and Campbell carried the show on their shoulders. Their chemistry was undeniably adorable and sweet. Hertford believably embodied the child-like qualities of Molly Astor with ease and finesse, without falling into the all-too-common trope of, “Look at me! I’m a full-grown adult playing a child! Wheeee!” This was most notable in the quiet scenes of reflection and discovery between her character and The Boy. Campbell gave Peter a vibrancy and energy, which helped portray why he never wanted to grow up. While there were some moments of heavy backstory, which could have been wonderful opportunities for strong character development, Campbell bounced a back a little too easily from these memories making his character arc and choices seem artificial. While I understand the Hale is family-oriented and kid-friendly, lingering a little while longer on these moments could have a profound and positive impact on the storytelling.
Nicholas Siler is especially worth mentioning as his portrayal of Mrs. Bumbrake (the Nanny) was effective and hilarious. From his posture to a slight crack in his voice, I quickly overlooked a man playing a female character and simply saw Mrs. Bumbrake. This was especially true in a monologue chock full with enough alliteration to fall asleep to. Ben Abbott played Black ‘Stache (i.e., Captain Hook) with moral ambiguity, slyness, and just the right amount of playful villainy. However, all of these actors performing this characters wouldn’t be complete without a stunning supporting cast, all of which never played too big or too small. The ensemble worked well together, helping to tell the story of Neverland and Peter and allow us into their world.
In short, Peter and the Starcatcher is a fun evening, perfect for the whole family. While I believe there were some lost chances to truly delve into the deeper side of the story, this production is sure to please the young of age and young at heart.