Regional Reviews: Las Vegas
Peter and the Starcatcher
The ever-popular Peter Pan has inspired a number of prequels, among them the delightfully creative Peter and the Starcatcher, currently receiving an excellent production at the Las Vegas Little Theatre. Rick Elice's richly original script based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson can best be described as a "play with music." While not a full-blown musical, it features charming musical interludes created by Wayne Barker.
In this re-imagining of Peter's origins, the noble Lord Aster sets sail from England on a British warship, entrusted with a trunk containing a mysterious and dangerous treasure which Queen Victoria has ordered him to destroy. His young daughter Molly and her devoted nanny Mrs. Bumbrake follow in a merchant vessel captained by the unsavory Slank, who has secretly stashed the Queen's treasure-bearing trunk in his own ship, swapping it for an identical trunk containing sand; Slank is also smuggling a trio of orphan boys destined to be sold to a ruthless foreign warlord. A band of pirates, led by the egotistical Black Stache and his faithful sidekick Smee, capture the warship and imprison Lord Aster and the British crew. Upon discovering that the real treasure is on the merchant vessel, the pirates sail the warship into its path. This leads to a shipwreck in which everyone eventually washes up on Mollusk Island, inhabited by the fierce Mollusk tribe and their leader, the Fighting Prawn. The Prawn himself was once an abused kitchen slave in England; as a result, the Mollusk's tribal language consists entirely of Italian menu items. Will the Mollusks feed everyone to their giant crocodile? Will Stache get the treasure? Will Peter and the other orphans escape a life of slavery? Will Mrs. Bumbrake find true love? And what is the source of Molly's mysterious powers?
If this sounds like a children's play, it really isn't. Although children will certainly enjoy the play, it is geared toward a grown-up mentality, with plenty of sophisticated wordplay. The writing is fast and funny. Much of its charm lies in its obstinately low-tech depictions of sprawling adventures and magical happenings. A rubber glove, for example, becomes a flying bird. A string of triangular white pennants (such as you might see at a used car lot) doubles as the churning sea and the jaws of a crocodile. The play takes the willing suspension of disbelief to a "whole nuther level," and it's a joyous ride.
Director Walter Niejadlik keeps the action moving at an appropriately fast clip. Unfortunately, he has staged some of the scenes with actors sitting or lying on the downstage floor, resulting in obstructed sightlines for the audience sitting more than a few rows back. Children and shorter folks should try to book seats as close to the stage as possibleor bring a booster cushion.
The cast is quite strong overall. As the scenery-chewing Black Stache, Lysander Abadia channels his inner Christian Borle, oozing with stage presence, athleticism, perfect timing, and an electrifying smile. (Abadia doubles as the show's choreographer; his mermaid chorus line is total hoot.) Kyle Jones is a delightful Smee, and Brian Scott does a charming turn as Mrs. Bumbrake. As Peter, the likeable Michael Blair has an easy stage presence. Chris Hermening plays it straight and convincing as the courageous Lord Aster. As Molly, Aviana Glover proves once again that she is a fine young actress, but her attempt at a British accent makes some of her lines incomprehensible. Dave Elliot's Alf is endearing in his clumsy courtship of Mrs. Bumbrake, Chris Davies is both funny and formidable as the Fighting Prawn, and Casper Collins reveals a natural stage presence and a gift for physical comedy as the food-obsessed orphan Ted.
The onstage band, consisting only of musical director James Mares and percussionist Jeff McCracken, proves that even a small number of live musicians can add magic to a production.
Ron Lindblom's set design is terrific, especially the backdrop and portable foliage for Mollusk Island and the inspired rendering of the fateful shipwreck. Also noteworthy are Laura McClure's costume designsthe outfits for the mermaid chorus are so creative that one longs for the chorus to have more stage time just to take in the details. As usual, Ginny Adams' lighting design is subtle and effective.
Even in the intimate Mainstage theatre, the show's dialogue and lyrics are sometimes difficult to hear. The dialogue is fast paced, but the performers do not all have professional-quality diction, and their attempts at British accents sometimes muffle their speech. At times the music overwhelms the performers' voices.
Despite its minor flaws, Peter and the Starcatcher is one of LVLT's best offerings this season, and is highly recommended.
Peter and the Starcatcher continues through July 31, 2016 (Thursday-Saturday at 8 pm, Sunday at 2 pm) at the Las Vegas Little Theatre, 3920 Schiff Dr. , Las Vegas, Nevada 89103. For tickets ($25) or further information, go to www.lvlt.org or call (702) 362-7996.