Peter Pan is having something of a renaissance these days. He flew into view in the 2014 live TV performance of the original musical, as well as big-screen movies, including "Pan," "Return to Neverland" and "Finding Neverland," a musical version of which is on Broadway.
"Peter and the Starcatcher," an imaginative prequel that won five Tony Awards in 2012, continues the rethinking of J.M. Barrie's classic story of boyhood run amok. It runs through April 24 at the Fine Arts Center.
Based on the novel by Dave Barry (yes, the humorist) and Ridley Pearson, Rick Elice's script cleverly reassembles the essential elements of the beloved story - a ruthless pirate captain, for instance, a hungry croc, a boy who distrusts grown-ups as much as he wants a real home - into something surprising and completely new, a delightfully self-aware script that embraces vaudeville, mime and physical humor, even as it spouts dialogue worthy of Nick and Nora Charles. While children will likely enjoy it, "Peter" is for adults through and through.
Happily, director Joye Cook-Levy's 150-minute production delivers the full-throttle immersive ride the script begs for. That's thanks, in part, to work by all the technical teams behind "Peter," including costumes by Janson Fangio, Jonathan Spencer's lighting, music by Jerry McCauley II and Josh Birkhimer, and what may be Christopher L. Sheley's best set yet.
Mostly it's the skill and commitment of the large cast, which takes Elice's required physicality and tongue-twisting dialogue well in hand - and seems to have fun doing it. A tremendous feat in itself.
Thankfully, too, because much of the charm of this play with music is in the rapid-fire exchanges - often in rhyme - and heady turns of phrase requiring confidence and panache, as well as enunciation.
"I say, Smee," starts pirate captain Black Stache (Jordan Leigh in a swing-to-the-fences performance), "what is it the men call me?"
"No, the other thing."
"Ruthless, sir. Ruthless, heartless and peerless," answers Smee (Andrew Wilkes, a powerhouse of good-natured badness).
"Guilty as charged," Stache says sweetly.
But while the first act delivers hoopla with a fire hose, Elice's second act is more of a garden hose. It's still fun, but missing the Rube Goldberg mashup of set, dialogue, lighting pyrotechnics and action that propels Act I. With fewer moving parts, its principal job is to quickly tie up the links to the story we know so well - a bit too neatly for my taste.
The acting was across-the-board fabulous. And the bigger the character, the more pronounced the joy. Wilkes' Smee. Karl Brevik's wildly patriotic and a tad dotty Lord Aster. Nanny Bumbrake and Teacher, a mermaid who was once a Scottish salmon, both of whom Adam Blancas turns out with verve and wonderful specificity. And all of the many characters played by the great Sammy Gleason.
And as villains with a joie de vivre for evil often do, Leigh's Black Stache steals nearly every scene and serves up some of the best lines in the show ("We haven't got all night, Smee. People have paid for nannies and parking").
I initially had doubts about the decidedly not-13-year-old Rebecca Myers as Molly, daughter of Aster and Wendy stand-in. But her zeal for the part and authentic portrayal of youth quickly swept my first impressions aside. Likewise, Levi Penley, who played the boy who would become Peter Pan. Both were worthy of leading this terrific show.