The show: “Peter and the Starcatcher” at Hartford’s Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts.
What makes it special?: The national tour of the family-friendly Broadway play (with a bit of music).
First impressions?: Man, 19 degrees is sure cold. That was my thought as I joined the audience outside after exiting the theater when the fire alarm went off 20 minutes into the show on opening night on Tuesday. After a while, the audience returned inside and to their seats -- but without a word from anyone at Bushnell to what exactly went on. A staffer told me later that the show's smoke machine set off the backstage fire alarm, which must give pause for any return visits of "The Phantom of the Opera.” I was also told by a friend that a similar occurrence happened during a performance of “Mary Poppins.” Perhaps a re-calibration of the alarm system is in order.
But back to the show -- which is a delight. I'm not a huge fan of narrative theater where action is described to death instead of enacted, but after a wordy set-up, things settled down with the focus on the fanciful story with fresh, fluid and clever staging by co-directors Roger Rees and Alex Timbers and the "movement" guided by Steven Hoggett.
The show is a prequel of sorts to "Peter Pan," (think “Wicked” but without the elaborate production values) and while the kids will be too busy loving the emo-centric sensibilirty of the show (farts, poop and other bodily functions get their due), adults will enjoy guessing how this Pirates of the Caribbean-style tale fits in to the beloved J.M. Barrie classic. (It all does, and quite touchingly.)
The rich imagination, the playful humor and the well-seasoned ensemble cast make this a must-see for families -- or even that sophisticate who still has a little boy in him.
What’s it about?: A dozen multi-tasking actors with kid-glee tell the story of two ships from England sailing to a tropical isle, each with a mysterious trunk. One is a decoy, filled with sand and the other is from Queen Victoria and it contains...well let’s just say magical stuff. Pirates take over the decoy ship -- which also include a trio of orphan boys being sold to the island despot as crocodile fodder -- and the resilient, resourceful and adventuresome daughter of a noble. (Dad is leading the mission on the other ship.)
Everyone eventually ends up on the island in desperate and hilarious search for the other trunk’s treasure -- or in the quest to keep it safe.
Sounds a bit complicated: Some of it is, especially in the first act with the set-up but the cast, direction and Rick Elice’s script -- based on the Dave Barry/Ridley Pearson novel -- keep the jokes, puns, slapstick, snark, winks, deliberate anachroinisms and overall silliness coming at rapid-fire pace.
The ensemble is terrific, especially a deliciously over-the-top John Sanders’ Black Stache (think Captain Hook before his signature characteristic). Sanders luxuriates in his grand and hilarious dyslexic villainy -- and his second act “omigod” accident is a bravura low-comedy aria. Megan Stern’s well-enunciated Molly has a right can-do spirit that makes her both appealing and comically annoying. Joey deBettencourt as Peter captures the perfect balance of recess and reality, embracing the show’s sense of play but grounding it in human emotion that, in the end, many will find deeply moving.
Who will like it?: Anyone who is entranced with ‘Story Theater’ techniques or the Peter Pan story. Mermaids.
Who won’t?: Those who grew up much too fast. Crocodiles.
For the kids?: Absolutely, though small ones might be lost in the verbal linguistics, the fast-moving plot line and length. The youngest kids would probably not appreciate how the prequel connects to the classic story as much as adults will. A bit of advance prep is in order, but that’s good advice for any show you bring kids too.
Twitter review in 140 characters or less: Alarmingly good fun.
Thoughts on leaving the parking lot?: Surprisingly enough, this modest show (but imaginatively designed with wondrously whimsical sets by Donyale Werle and costumes by Paloma Young ) turns out to be a fine fit for the Bushnell. The sound system was excellent and the exaggerated, playfully hammy acting style works reasonably well in the 2,800-seat hall.
The basics: The show continues through Sunday, Feb. 23 at the Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford. Running time is 2 hours and 25 minutes, including one intermission -- unless there's another fire alarm. Performances are Wednesday to Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m. Information at 860-987-5900 and www.bushnell.org.
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