The musical Peter Pan is one of my childhood delights. I love me some Mary Martin in a flying rig. Or Cathy Rigby. The story, about a boy who won't grow up and the magic and heartbreak of choosing to do so, hits me right in the sweet spot of simply sincere and slightly sad.
While the play Peter and the Starcatcher is essentially the backstory of Peter Pan (kind of like what Wicked is to The Wizard of Oz), don't expect lighthearted tunes and choreographed flying. Starcatcher, now playing at the Bank of America Theatre, is a much different and grounded story, but no less thrilling.
Adapted by Rick Elice from a 2006 novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, Starcatcher uses the art of collective storytelling delivered through a tight, high-energy ensemble. And, notably to this Chicago audience, many of the players in this first-rate national tour -- including Joey DeBettencourt, who delights as the boy who eventually becomes Peter, and the scene-stealing John Sanders, who plays Black Stache -- are Chicago-based.
While the the tale of how the lost boys came to be is certainly the narrative focus, the driver behind this magical story is a young woman named Molly (the outstanding Megan Stern) -- a fearless teenager who sets her sights on Peter and helps him out of a sticky situation involving orphan trafficking, while also helping her father, a "star catcher" on a secret mission to transport "starstuff" to the Queen of England. (Ok, so the exposition is a bit convoluted, and it took me a good 20 minutes to track the narrative, but trust me: you will eventually catch up and it's a fun ride to the end).
There were a number of young children in the opening night audience, and while there is much to entertain them, particularly in the second half of this quirky and touching show, this is ultimately a tale about growing up. And as us grown ups know, the magic of youth quickly turns to sobering reality -- unless we have some starstuff on our side.
"Peter and the Starcatcher" plays through April 13 at the Bank of America Theatre. More info here