Theatrical magic doesn’t get much more magical than the magic being made at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center as Actors Repertory Theatre Of Simi enchants audiences of all ages with their supremely imaginative albeit scaled-down production of Broadway’s Peter And The Starcatcher.
Based on Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s best-selling 450-page children’s novel Peter and the Starcatchers, Rick Elice’s stage adaptation takes us back to the height of the British Empire, introducing us to Starcatcher Lord Leonard Aster (William Carmichael), his spunky daughter Molly (Katherine Bottoms), and Molly’s prim but not always proper nanny Mrs. Bumbrake (Evan Smith), all three about to set sail for the kingdom of “Rundoon,” though not all on the same ocean vessel.
Charged with keeping a watchful eye on a trunk filled with precious cargo belonging to none other than Her Majesty Queen Victoria (God save her!), Lord Aster will be voyaging aboard The Wasp, the world’s swiftest clipper, captained by Robert Falcon Scott (Austin Robert Miller).
Meanwhile, Molly and Mrs. Bumbrake will be setting sail aboard the considerably more sluggish The Neverland, transporting with them a decoy trunk filled only with sand.
Naturally, Trunk A ends up on Ship B, and vice versa, a flip-flop sure to lead to comical consequences.
Also along for the ride are hero-in-training Boy (Ryan Lefton), big-talking Prentiss (Jared Price), and food-crazed Ted (Kyle Harrington), a trio of orphans sold into servitude to Neverland captain Slank (John Manahan) by dastardly orphanage schoolmaster Gremkin (John Dantona).
Pirates Alf (Andy Mattick), Smee (Nick Ferguson), Mack (Dantona again), Sánchez (Dantona once again), and the terrifying, aptly named Black Stache (Will Shupe) are around to guarantee danger, with tropical island natives Fighting Prawn (Dantona in a fourth role) and Hawking Clam (Manahan) showing up to provide local tropical color.
Along the way, Peter And The Starcatcher introduces us to a crocodile-toothed Mr. Grin, a secret bird language, a pair of magical amulets, a flying cat that just happens to look like a rolled-up winter scarf, and some mostly not-so-feminine mermaids whose siren song is one of composer Wayne Barker’s many musical treats.
Peter And The Starcatcher’s abundant pop references may whoosh over kids’ heads, but adults will relish how a Kelis hit, Sally Field’s Oscar speech, and a Verizon catch phrase find themselves into Elice’s script. And what better way to describe a missing treasure chest than as being “as elusive as the melody in a Philip Glass opera?”
Still, delectable as Elice’s script is, much of Peter And The Starcatcher’s success must rest upon how ingeniously its director can concoct ways to observe stage directions like “Molly floats a few inches off the deck, then down again” without high-tech FX, and in Sean P. Harrington ARTS has found a director who more than fills the bill.
Letting his flights of fancy soar, Harrington creates a world where a rope held just-so can outline a door or simulate an ocean storm, where a handheld model of a great ocean vessel split in two can substitute for the real thing, where scaffolding can represent anything your mind’s eye might see, and where a human boy may actually take flight.
Harrington’s scenic design achieves what would cost Hollywood millions of dollars if only imagination could take the place of bucks, with some valuable help from Julien Reux’s effective lighting, Darlene Streeton and Brenda Miller’s inventive props, Kevin Kahm’s pitch-perfect sound design, and Cyndi Caldwell’s clever costumes.
Add to this Becky Castells’ delightful choreography (and her rousing fight choreography) and vocal director Matthew Park’s keyboard artistry and you’ve got a “play with music” that’s very nearly a full-fledged musical at times.
Still, there could be no Peter And The Starcatcher without a Peter to command the stage with charisma, charm, and boyish pluck, and in Simi Valley native (and recent NYU Tisch School Of The Arts grad), ARTS has found its star(dom)-catching Peter.
Supporting cast members shine equally brightly, beginning with Shupe’s comedically masterful Black Stache and the deliciously seaworthy back-up he gets from loyal sidekick Ferguson and fellow seafarers Mattick, Manahan, and Dantona, the latter two making for some hot-blooded island natives (and Dantona for even more).
Bottoms is feisty perfection as a Molly who’s more than a match for any English boy, and Harrington and Price provide engagingly spunky support a couple of lost boys.
Carmichael and Miller make for a terrific pair of British adventurers, and a gender-bending Evan Smith steals scenes right and left as Molly’s nanny, not to mention in mermaid mode as Teacher.
Peter And The Starcatcher is produced by Jan Glasband. Miller is assistant director and Kahm is technical director. Brenda Goldstein is stage manager. Wigs are by Luis Ramirez, Jamie Whittington Studer, and Kimberly Kiley.
Critics have called Peter And The Starcatcher astonishing, dazzling, exhilarating, fantastical, joyous, and miraculous. Check it out at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center and you’ll be adding your own superlatives to the mix.
Actors Repertory Theatre Of Simi, Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, 3050 Los Angeles Avenue, Simi Valley.
August 14, 2106