Set as a grown-up prequel to Peter Pan, Lipscomb Theatre opens Peter and the Starcatcher Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in Shamblin Theatre.
The show is adapted from the whimsical novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. Under the direction of David Ian Lee, senior Joss Yarborough stars as Boy/Peter.
Compared to the well-known Peter and Wendy, Peter and the Starcatcher is relatively unknown and gifts the audience with the unique experience of watching how the characters they’ve all come to love were brought to life.
“It hasn’t reached that saturation point of certain other shows; it wasn’t produced by every middle school in the nation or anything, so that makes it kind of hard to compare,” Yarborough said. “But I think the integration of our ensemble is really remarkable.
“It’s a pretty ensemble heavy show in its original pen, but we added a couple of cast members, and David spent a lot of time and energy crafting vibrant scenes that allow for seriously dynamic action. It’s really beautiful.”
At the top of the show, an ensemble of actors assembles onto the stage and addresses the audience. With a bit of bickering, they welcome the audience to the world of the play and tell them what’s in store: flying, dreaming, adventure and growing up.
The ensemble invites show-goers to use their imagination to create the British Empire. With the snap of an actor’s fingers, the audience is transported to a bustling port. This is where the audience meets Lord Leonard Aster (Hendrick Shelton), his daughter Molly (Robyn Smith) and her nanny, Mrs. Bumbrake (Nelson Tilley).
Two identical trunks are delivered to the port. One of them contains precious cargo belonging to the Queen, who has made Lord Aster its’ guardian. He is to keep watch over it aboard The Wasp.
The other is a decoy full of sand and will be carried by the older, beaten down ship entitled The Neverland. The captain of The Neverland marks the Queen’s trunk with an “X” and then switches the trunks at the last minute so that the Queen’s cargo is loaded aboard The Neverland instead.
Peter and the Starcatcher follows the story from this point on, inviting the audience into the story of how Captain Hook came to be, how Peter became Peter, how he met Molly and what her importance is in his journey as a Lost Boy.
“I know people like to say ‘it’s a show for all ages’ about so many shows, and it ends up being code for ‘this show will bore everyone equally,’ but this is not that show,” Yarborough said. “It’s a youthful story told in a profoundly grown-up way. It walks a tightrope of hilarity and hope, insanity and intimacy, without ever taking itself too seriously.
“I believe the most powerful and universal stories are in fact those that are most specific and well-told. I believe this show accomplishes that, so I really do think there’s something in it for everyone.
For Yarborough, one of the best artistic decisions made during the rehearsal process was to set the show in a Victorian home, the residence of Wendy Darling.
“Everything is boxed up, and we’ve come to perform the story of Molly and Peter one last time,” Yarborough said. “I don’t believe that’s actually stated in the program or anything, so this is kind of inside information, but I think it shades the show in a tender sort of way. Andy Blieler [Peter’s Technical Director] is a genius.”
For junior Connor Weaver, who plays Black Stache (and eventually Captain Hook), one of the most playful artistic decisions can be seen through his character.
“There’s a part near the tail end of the show where Stache goes through a significant character change very abruptly, and he overreacts accordingly with extreme hyperbole,” Weaver said. “Now, in the original script, there are only three lines of ‘Oh my god’ before the scene moves on.”
In the Broadway run of the show, Christian Borle (who plays Black Stache) milked that scene for all it was worth, stretching the moment out for several minutes.
“As of this moment, my best time has been eight minutes fifteen seconds,” Weaver said “That’s eight minutes of what is essentially a miniature one-man show within the show, filled with just the most ridiculous comedic bits and improvisation that I ostensibly have to carry myself.
“It’s absolutely exhausting, maybe the hardest thing I’ve done onstage so far, but it’s so, so worth it because the cast and crew is always rolling by the end of it, and I think it’ll be even grander with a full audience.”
Peter and the Starcatcher will run for two weekends in Shamblin Theatre, Feb. 17-18 and 24-25 at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 19th and 26th at 2:30 p.m.
The show additionally features junior Sarah Johnson as Smee, junior Scott Wilson as Prentiss and senior Hunter Martin as Ted.
Tickets are $17 for an individual, $12 for faculty, staff and alumni and $5 for students. The Student Government Association has sponsored several free tickets for the show available for pick-up at the box office.
“I think the show produces an important message for people in general right now,” Yarborough said. “It explores identity, home and otherness, and it creates a safe space for healing while also offering a breath of respite and refreshment from everything happening in the world currently.
“This show has kept me going a couple of times this semester; I sincerely hope it can do the same for those who come to see it.”
Photo courtesy of the Lipscomb Theatre Department