Peter and the Starcatcher: the comic origins of a classical hero
by Drew Rowsome -Photos by Seanna Kennedy
Peter and the Starcatcher runs until Sun, August 28 at the Lower Ossington Theatre, 100A Ossington Ave. lowerossingtontheatre.com
Billed as "A Grownup's Prequel to Peter Pan," the poster leaves out that in Peter and the Starcatcher, Peter complains bitterly and often that, "Grownups always lie." And they also spin tall tales to create illogical logical explanations for a classic tale.
A lot of the inventions are clever and quite funny but the addition of an overlaid new sci-fi plot that substitutes "stardust" for "pixie dust" is, initially, contrived. But when the meteorite dust - which "changes people in different ways according to their personality," "it will make you what you want to be"- turns a school of fish into singing and dancing drag mermaids, all is forgiven. And the final emotional climax comes achingly close to being a spectacular heartstopping moment.
The structure is ideally suited to the Lower Ossington Theatre: the cast marches onto an impressive and versatile set - "treading the boards" has never been more apt - full of trap doors, entrances, swinging ropes and surprises. They begin narrating the tale and assuming the various characters while conjuring the special effects with enthusiasm and the imaginative use of props, puppets and gags. The convoluted plot requires a lot of explanation and Peter and the Starcatcher does bog down in a massive amount of exposition. It is here that the basic text becomes puzzling: is it a play? a musical? a hybrid?
The musical numbers are wonderful, giving an energy and drive that would have made the production a true treasure chest. But unfortunately most are mere snippets and the two big numbers end the first act and begin the second, leaving the rest to sag when it should soar. Not that the script isn't funny and well-delivered, packed with a Monty Python-esque flavour that revels in wordplay, malapropisms, slagging Great Britain and racism, and puns.
Jason Gray as Black Stache the pirate captain gets to have the most fun. His role is supposed to go over the top and he gnashes his teeth, splutters and has his pomposity punctured repeatedly without ever having his ego dented. While Saphire Demitro (Little Shop of Horrors, Jesus Christ Superstar, Into the Woods, Evil Dead the Musical) sexily struts through her role as the oversexed underserved Mrs Bumbrake, every time she breaks into song one hold their breath hoping it will bloom into a full number. She and Spencer Bennet have a great sexual chemistry and he flexes his pecs, bares his belly and turns his Alf's melting infatuation with Mrs Bumbrake into an audience infatuation with him.
Shaquan Lewis achieves real sexual menace as Grempkin - the orphans are either being sold into sado-masochistic slavery or are to be fed to the King of Rundoon's snakes - and also navigates the food puns endemic to the Mullosk tribesmen. He is also the second sexiest mermaid. Christopher Benjamin as the Teacher mermaid comes out as the seafood supreme by flexing his phallic tail and knowing leer.
Of course Peter and the Starcatcher hinges on its Peter, and Nathaniel Kinghan is a wide-eyed endearing orphan who refuses to give up his childless wonder despite his desire to be a hero. If he had asked us to "clap if you believe," we would have, even though a joking reference to the Mary Martin meme had fallen flat earlier. Director Jeremy Hutton (Into the Woods, Cabaret, The Sound of Music) keeps the action moving at a breakneck pace that almost compensates for the length of the production. The swordfights have fear-inducing heft, the satirical jibes land with ease, the gay undertones percolate subtly, and there are a multitude of bits of business that amplify or just amuse. If huge swaths of text had been rendered in song and a little more darkness were allowed in, Peter and the Starcatcher would have been a supernova instead of just glowing with the kiss of stardust courtesy of the LOT.