After a season or two of this production cycling through the city and the burbs, I do think Peter and the Starcatcher is the new Godspell and I am more than okay with that! For decades, Godspell has been the go-to musical for theatre houses nation-wide to explore conceptual theatre and dialogue. After seeing Peter and the Starcatcher a few times now, Theatre Horizon’s production has changed the game.
Directed by one of Philadelphia’s most sought-after directors, Matthew Decker collaborated with some magnificent story-tellers to take us on a wild adventure in “Neverland.” Peter and the Starcatcher is about a young boy on his journey to becoming iconic Peter Pan and the effervescent characters he meets along the way.
This story began in an empty recreation hall. Think church basement from the 1970s. Cold, dank, musty. Green checkered floor, wood paneling, old board games and instruments, table and folding chairs, rusty water fountain, etc. Designed expertly by Christopher Haig, you would have no idea at first glance how the set would transform over the next two hours. It was a jungle gym for actors.
As we are introduced to each actor, we realize that Decker’s concept was that of a weekly soup kitchen. On a dark a rainy night, misfits from town take cover to eat and wait out a nasty storm. This prelude alone was mesmerizing as the lighting design by Mike Inwood had me transfixed (just wait until Act II design). The inside of the theatre felt like we all were a part of the impending storm. The lightning, the thunder (Sound Design by Larry Fowler), the special effects of misty fog coming in through a side door had the audience squirreling until BLACK OUT! The power goes out and the pandemonium on stage ensues. How to pass the time during a storm? Tell a story!
The misfits take on several characters each to tell the story of this Young Boy (Ben Grinberg) and Molly Aster, exceptionally portrayed by Leigha Kato as they navigate their way through the high seas with treasure in tow. With a mere cast of 12, the stage always felt full. Perhaps because of Theatre Horizon’s intimate space. This play with music helmed by Amanda Morton, also delightfully cast, was a wonderful way for the less inclined musical theatre actors to take a stab at some general song and staging as this production is for the character actor. The clear stand-out was by actor Mel Krodman most note-ably as Smee and as a show stopping Mermaid. Her physicality and vocal prowess set the bar for the other dozen teammates on stage. Trey Lyford’s Black Stache was a charming mix of Kenneth Branagh, Gene Simmons, and Frank-N-Furter as a pirate king. David Bardeen (Mrs. Bumbrake) and Samantha Rosentrater (Alf) were a lovely comedy-duo and played opposite genders with high aplomb.
The story by Rick Elice is perhaps 30 minutes too long. Dragging out some storylines and skimming quickly through others. Particularly a random opening musical number, with music by Wayne Barker, that opened Act II. Although delightful and cleverly costumed by Jillian Keys (I really want to make mermaid tails for my niece out of dustpans now!), it was completely unnecessary to the plotline. I’d also be remiss not to mention that Johnnie Hobbs Jr. (Lord Aster) seemed to be struggling with his lines and thereby halting some scenes.
To execute any good theatrical piece requires stellar collaboration as well as masterful execution from the stage management team led by Katie Ringwood. Although the cast performed all the scene changes it was the magical elements that really kept the production at a high altitude. In a city where the theatre community is looking for excellence, I would say that Peter and the Starcatcher at Theatre Horizon is just quite perfect. Why quite? Well, we never returned to the beginning set-up of the soup kitchen. As a director and producer, this production got my creative juices flowing. If parody is the highest form of flattery, I suspect to be flattering Matthew Decker for some time to come.
Peter and the Starcatcher runs until May 20, 2018 at Theatre Horizon in Norristown.