A Grownup Prequel to “Peter Pan” Tells a Creative and Imaginative Tale


Hope Nordquist plays Molly Aster with Jake Mathey in the lead role of Peter.  Photo by Terry Cartie Norton

The Duluth Playhouse’s ”Peter and the Starcatcher” is a wild adventure ride telling the “origin story” of Peter Pan and what happened before the boy who “wouldn’t grow up” flew into the Darlings’ nursery one fateful night.

Bravo to Phillip Fazio who had to be not only the director, but also a circus ringleader of sorts, keeping all the balls in the air, the actors “spinning,” and the plot driving forward. It is a choreographic whirlwind of a show, not for dance, but for keeping all the constantly role and costume changing actors in the right place at the right time.

Fazio also establishes the right mix of sweetness, silliness, playfulness, and even, at times, pathos to tackle this challenging piece of theater. He and his cast take the audience into a world of make-believe and inventive storytelling

Writer Rick Elice (based on a novel by humorist Dave Barry) turned the beloved tale upside down in this 2012 Tony award-winning play. While keeping elements of the charm and magic of J.M Barrie’s beloved 1911 story, there is little that is “Disneyesque” or even remotely reminiscent of the Mary Martin original Broadway musical of decades ago.

This version is filled with fast and furious dialogue delivered with sometimes thick, intentionally unrecognizable accents, requiring the audience’s full attention. Sly and often witty allusions to everyone from Shakespeare to Michael Jackson also require the audience to be attentive to catch them all.

One of the first “stars” of the show is Jeff Brown’s magnificent set, an attic with nooks, crannies, platforms, stairs, and even a hatch door, giving the perfect “playground” for the 12 actors to perform 100 characters.

Brown’s masterful lighting provides shadows and sunshine, starlight and the dark of night, and much more, to create imaginative and captivating stage pictures.

Kudos to prop designer April Ellingsen who uses the cluttered attic to plant the needed “bells and whistles,” trunks, fabrics, musical instruments and other ephemera as creative props for the actors to tell the story.

Peg Ferguson’s wonderfully colorful and eclectic costumes intentionally look as if they are mostly made up of cast-off pieces that might have been pulled from the attic’s trunks by children playing dress-up.

While providing necessary exposition and set up of the complicated plot, Act I got a bit bogged down at an hour-and-a-half. After intermission, however, the show shifts to a higher gear, and the audience came alive.

Opening Act II. a hilarious mermaids’ “chorus line” of the entire cast, costumed in ratty sequins and wigs of every color of the rainbow, delivers a preposterous song and dance. Then, all the puzzle pieces of the plot start quickly falling into place, leading to an emotional and heartfelt ending.

The show requires its actors to be onstage prop masters, musicians, stage crew, and singers, and to change roles at the literal drop of the hat. An ensemble cast, onstage for almost the entire show is filled with talented performers.

Standout ensemble members include Alyson Enderle, who, with a nod to the ever so prim and proper nanny Mary Poppins, turns from a governess into a lascivious wench by the show’s end. Enderle also takes on other roles with fast costume changes on the fly, playing a variety of musical instruments, and even broadly conducting the “chorus” in the company’s biggest vocal number.

Playing two beleaguered Lost Boys, Greyson Holste and SJ Olson evoke both laughter and sympathy as they try to keep up with the ever-changing twists and turns of events.

Justin Peck’s Smee is a delightful “right-hand man” and devoted sycophant for the Pirate Captain. At one point, Peck gives a hysterical turn as a singing mermaid “siren,” unsuccessfully trying to lure men to the rocks.

Plucky, courageous, and decidedly not a girl to leave the dangerous “stuff” to the boys, the character of Molly Aster (Hope Nordquist), at first, seems to be the Wendy of Barrie’s tale. It is not until the very end of the show, however, that her true identity is revealed.

Nordquist is entirely convincing, charming, and funny as the courageous, fearless, adorable, and bossy leader of the story’s mission, determined to set things right.

Playing the title role of Peter, Jake Mathey tugs at the heartstrings as, at first, the nameless Lost Boy, who so desperately wants an identity, home, family, and ultimately love. Mathey hits all the right notes of the earnest, sweet, and conflicted boy, who needs to make the ultimate decision to come into Molly’s world and grow up or to stay on an island to play forever.

Despite the title, Evan Kelly is decidedly the star of the show, “swashing and buckling” with the best of them in his role of Black Stache, the “avatar” of Captain Hook. Kelly’s commanding presence, his magnificently tailored red coat, his impossibly coiffed and lush mustache, and his endless stream of double entendres, modern references, and smarmy dialogue make him the show’s black heart.

Kelly revels in every nuance of being the villain, playing it to the hilt and shamelessly stealing every scene when he is on onstage, much to the audience’s raucous approval.

The conundrum of “Peter and the Star Catcher” to consider: “Is it a children’s show?” Despite it being based on a favorite children’s story, its length of 2 1/2 hours (with intermission) may be tough for the wee ones in the audience. A few sleepy faces at intermission in the lobby were sipping blue mermaid drinks.

Much of the dialogue and complicated plot would be lost to all but the most precocious children. Yet, the action, color, and broad comedy, could hold many kiddos. Parents’ discretion is the best rule here.

The Playhouse and Fazio are commended for choosing a demanding play (not a musical in the traditional sense), and finding the cast and artistic team to bring all the elements of the creative staging to enchanting life.

See “Peter and the Star Catcher” to remember what you have always loved about the “Peter Pan” characters. Then enjoy following the trail of the “basket of Easter Eggs,” discovering the hidden surprises and clues of the prequel to the story.

You’ll find Peter, the Lost Boys, Neverland, the crocodile, Tinker Bell, Captain Hook, and the scurvy pirates, all there in new and whimsical ways you have never seen before.

Jake Mathey and Cast in Peter and the Stormcatcher. Photo by Terry Cartie Norton

Peter and the Starcatcher
Written by Rick Elice
Based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
Music by Warne Barker

At the Duluth Playhouse at the NorShor Theatre
211 E. Superior St., Duluth

May 24 - June 2, 2024
Thursdays – Saturdays @ 7:30pm
Saturday Matinee on May 25 at 2pm
Sunday Matinee on June 2 at 2pm
Audio Description: May 25 @ 2pm (Carol Cheslak)
ASL Interpretation: May 31 @ 7:30pm (Interpreters: Rebecca Rick & Emily Engel)

For tickets,visit the box office at the NorShor Theatre, call 218-733-7555, or visit: https://www.duluthplayhouse.org/shows/peter-the-starcatcher

The Playhouse recommends patrons be ages 8 and up for this production. Everyone must have a ticket. Children under 3 are not admitted. Call the Box Office if you have any questions.

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