Just about everyone knows the Peter Pan story. But how did Peter, Tinkerbell, the Lost Boys, and Captain Hook happen to end up in Neverland? That story is told in Peter and the Starcatcher, a new play that gives us the Peter Pan back story and is opening on Broadway. The show, which is based on a 2004 best-selling children's novel, had a successful and highly praised two-month run off-Broadway at the New York Theatre Workshop a year ago. I wish I could share the enthusiasm that was expressed about the off-Broadway run. While Peter has its assets, including an imaginative production and a good deal of theatricality, much of it, unfortunately, played out in a manner that seemed more tedious than enchanting.
The twelve hard-working cast members all play multiple roles, and the story-telling technique develops slowly. It took me a long time to adapt to how the story is presented and to feel any sense of involvement. The plot is not always easy to follow. The dialog is rapid fire, and too much of it is just silly, with many of the jokes being hit-or-miss. There are some funny lines, but too many attempts at humor do not land. Act Two, as the story shifts to Neverland and starts to evolve into the Peter Pan legend we are familiar with, works better, but still is uneven. The show's conclusion ultimately is satisfying and even moving, but the journey to get there is a bumpy one.
One of Peter and the Starcatcher's strengths is the cast, led by a star turn from Christian Borle (center of the above photo). You can currently see Borle in the television series Smash, but theatergoers have been aware of his talent for some time now, thanks to performances in shows as varied as Thoroughly Modern Millie, Spamelot, Legally Blonde, and Angels in America. In Peter, Borle plays pirate leader Black Stache, the character who will become Captain Hook. It is a deliciously campy, broad comic performance, with several truly hilarious moments, culminating in an Act Two comic take that is pure brilliance. Borle displays some body movement and poses that can only be described as remarkable and have to be seen to be fully appreciated. Borle's co-stars are also appealing. Adam Chanler-Berat is quite endearing as Peter, capturing the character's youthful yearning, uncertainty, and innocence. Celia Keenan-Bolger is wonderful as the strong willed young girl, Molly, who becomes Peter's romantic interest.
Directors Roger Rees and Alex Timbers bring a great deal of creativity to the production, but the style they and author Rick Elice have chosen to present the story may not serve as the best way to present what could be an intriguing and entertaining play. Clearly, many in the audience seemed to respond strongly to the material. Perhaps this show works best for a younger audience, although not necessarily for young children. Even for a theatergoer who did not totally respond to the material, like me, Peter and the Starcatcher has its admirable elements and winning moments, but they are not enough to make for a compelling and involving theatrical experience. - James Miller
Peter and the Starcatcher is at the Brooks Atkinson Theater, 256 West 47th Street.
Mr. Miller is a former Showtime exec who has spent many an evening transfixed by the bright lights of Broadway and Off-Broadway.