Review: Peter and the Starcatcher

Arthur DormanTalkin' Broadway

February 7, 2017

When Tyler Michaels, as an orphan with no name, sat on the stage floor at the Ritz Theater pleading "All I want is to be a boy for a while," my throat tightened as I felt the urge to shout out, "Me too!" Who can resist the lure of the boy who becomes Peter Pan and never grows up, whose life is one adventure after another in Neverland, and who gets through them all unscathed? Of course, his is the province of children, but something in that boy stirs the adult heart every time—at least, for this adult.

Peter and the Starcatcher is a play by Rick Elice based on the novel "Peter and the Starcatchers" by John Barry and Ridley Pearson. It is an invented back-story for Peter Pan, revealing how he came to be in Neverland, the creation of his devoted fairy partner Tinkerbell, and how he drew the eternal enmity of a foppish pirate captain—as well as how that pirate, who had been called Black Stache, lost his hand and acquired the name Captain Hook. It's an origins story for the original super hero of many a childhood.

Okay, I confess, I've loved James M. Barrie's creation all my life. "Peter Pan" was the first chapter book read to me as a very young child, and it was the first theater work I ever saw, by way of Mary Martin's performance live on NBC in 1955 and again in 1956. I doubted that I had the bravado to be Peter Pan—besides, there could only be one Peter—but I imagined finding eternal bliss as a lost boy. Yet, I never wondered from whence Peter, or Tink or Hook had come. I was perfectly able to accept the idea that they had just appeared, spawned out of the same magic dust Peter uses to teach children to fly. Well, thank goodness Barry and Pearson wanted some answers and put them in a book, and that Rick Elice thought it would be a good idea to put those answers on a stage. Even more fortunate, Theater Latté Da had the brilliant notion to include Peter and the Starcatcher in their current season.

As delightfully fanciful as the story is, the manner in which it is told turns it into the merriest thing to turn up on a stage in many years. It uses the most basic props (a plunger and a tennis racket become swords in a duel between Peter and Hook), an English music hall sensibility, and a set that looks like a mad hatter's attic, framed by a giant octopus with its tentacles stretched over the proscenium. The constant silliness to the proceedings is made all the more fun by the earnestness of the characters. Music, played on stringed instruments by actor Silas Sellnow, provides a jaunty soundscape, and occasional choral numbers add to the unruly playfulness. The text includes scads of double entendres, sly anachronisms, and unabashedly bad puns (of course, with puns, the worse they are, the better).

The play is set in 1885, well into the reign of Queen Victoria, whose likeness hangs on one side of the stage, lighting up at each mention of her royal name. Three orphan boys are sold off and put aboard the good ship Neverland to become slaves to the king of the far off island of Rundoon, though the boys believe they are on their way to be the king's special helpers. Also on board is Molly, the precocious and accomplished 13-year-old daughter of Lord Aster. Lord Aster, a widower, takes Molly with him on his many world travels, but this time they are traveling on separate ships to Rundoon. He is sailing on The Wasp, a swifter vessel, to dispose of a trunk of containing magical staff stuff in the world's hottest volcano, Mount Jalapeño, which is also on Rundoon. It is because his mission is so dangerous that Lord Aster insists Molly travel separately, under the protection of her nanny, Mrs. Bumbrake—a delightful character written to be played by a man, in the English pantomime tradition.

Soon after boarding the Neverland, Mrs. Bumbrake meets Alf, a coarse and flatulent old seafarer, and the two are attracted to one another, forming a twosome that provides laughs throughout the play. Molly meets the three orphan boys: Ted, who is obsessed with food; Prentiss, hung up on being the group leader; and one who became orphaned before being given a name. Meanwhile, Lord Aster realizes that The Wasp is no longer under the command of his friend Admiral Scott, but has been seized by pirates led by the nefarious and flamboyant Black Stache, aided by faithful first mate Smee. Black Stache demands the key to the trunk, but Lord Aster maintains a stiff upper lip, always the Brit.

From this start, the rollicking story includes: a native island people called the Mollusks who are led by Chief Fighting Prawn; incandescent mermaids; annoying yellow birds; a flying cat; swordplay; a huge man-eating crocodile named Mr. Grin; a near drowning; two identical trunks—one packed with treasure, the other a decoy—that get switched (talk about tired conventions made sparkling new); surprising kisses. And the boy without a name gains not only a name—Peter Pan—but a home—Neverland. More than that, he learns that a leader is one who puts others before himself. As Peter proves himself a hero, Black Stache (who has now become Captain Hook, but I'm not about to tell you how that happens) rejoices, for with a genuine hero to do battle against, he can be a genuine villain.

The entire cast shines from start to finish. All praise to Tyler Michaels as Peter, a role he already proved himself born to play at Children's Theater Company's production of Peter Pan a couple of years back. This time out, Michaels portrays an even richer character, for he must grow from sullen and cynical into boy hero, experiencing pangs of first love along the way. Michael's physical dexterity—making leaping about the scenery, hanging from a rope, crouching like a frog—seem like no more effort than bending a pinky. He is, as always, a joy to watch.

But he is not alone. Pearce Bunting is terrifically self-absorbed and decadent as Black Stache, rolling through both the wordplay and swordplay with ease, and moving about the stage with haughty swagger. Megan Burns is delightful as Molly—chatty, accomplished, competitive and bossy, yet endearing. Adam Qualls is hilarious as both Smee and Alf, while Craig Johnson steals every scene he is in as Mrs. Bumbrake and a tricked-out mermaid named Teacher who brings enlightenment to Peter. Ricardo Beaird and Silas Sellnow warm the heart while raising laughs as the orphans Prentiss and Ted.

Everything about the physical production—Joel Sass's eye-filling set, Sonya Berlovitz's glorious costumes, Marcus Dilliard's lighting, and Sean Healey's sound design—could not be bettered. Sass also directs the piece, keeping it moving at a breakneck pace, with pauses just brief enough to make sure the jokes land (and they do!). The characters on occasion speak directly to the audience, making it clear they know this is just a play, just pretend, but they go back to playing their parts with the utmost sincerity, just like children at play, pretending to be cops and robbers, or perhaps Peter Pan and pirates.

More than any show in recent memory, I was saddened when Peter and the Starcatcher came to an end. Presented with fizz and humor and heart, like the boy at the center of the tale, it is a worthy addition to a story that never grows old.

Peter and the Starcatcher continues through February 26, 2017, at the Ritz Theater, 345 13th Avenue NE, Minneapolis, MN. Tickets: $35.00 - $48.00. For tickets call 612-339-3303 or go to

Writer: Rick Elice, based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson; Music: Wayne Barker; Director and Scenic Design: Joel Sass; Music Director: Denise Prosek; Choreography: Carl Flink; Costume Design: Sonya Berlovitz; Costume Design Assistant: Jeni O'Malley; Lighting Design: Marcus Dilliard's; Sound Design: Sean Healey; Properties Master: Abbee Warmboe; Wig Design: Andrea Moriarity; Dialect Coach: Keely Wolter; Fight Director: Annie Enneking; Technical Director: Stein Rosburg; Stage Manager: Andrea K. Bowman; Assistant Director: Eric Norton; Assistant Stage Manager: April Harding; Production Manager: Allen Weeks.

Cast: Ricardo Beaird (Prentiss), Pearce Bunting (Black Stache/Mack), Megan Burns (Molly), Craig Johnson (Grempkin/ Mrs. Bumbrake/ Teacher), Tyler Michaels (Boy/Peter) Adam Qualls (Smee/Alf), James Rodriguez (Slank/Rufus/Hawking Clam), Silas Sellnow (Ted), Andre Shoals (Lord Aster/Fighting Prawn).

Theater Latté Da's 'Peter and the Starcatcher' offers magic straight on till morning

Rohan PrestonStar Tribune

February 6, 2017

It’s easy to be swept up into the magic of “Peter and the Starcatcher,” the “Peter Pan” prequel that opened Saturday at the Ritz in Minneapolis.

Director Joel Sass’ staging of this music-infused play for Theater Latté Da is often captivating, with well crafted small bits that explode into delirious fun, though the first act is a bit overlong. Playwright Rick Elice, who wrote this adaptation from a 2006 novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, could have used a judicious editor to make the first act hum with the verve, vitality and juice offered in the second act.

Like “Wicked,” which grew out of “The Wizard of Oz,” “Starcatcher” takes its cue from a classic text, specifically J.M. Barrie’s fantasy about a boy who never grows up. The show offers a fantastical back story about how Peter Pan, Molly, Captain Hook and the others came to be, and how Peter Pan developed his aversion to the adult world.

Set in the 19th century during Queen Victoria’s reign, “Starcatcher” involves sailing ships, a trunk full of treasure, pirates, magic and an island of aggrieved people once sold into British slavery. This is the first local staging of the Tony-winning work, which played Minneapolis in 2014 on a national tour.

The stage at the Ritz is chock-full of things seemingly rescued from a demolished Victorian home. That deconstructionist style is present not only in Sass’ set design, which includes the innards of a piano as well as sundry musical instruments, but also in Sonya Berlovitz’s seemingly slapdash costumes. These elements ground the play in a simple world where anything is possible.

Tyler Michaels, who played Peter Pan to acclaim at Children’s Theatre in 2014, plays the adult-averse Boy. He offers innocence and magic in a staging that combines English music hall with vaudeville. Using simple props and puppetry as they make inventive sounds, members of the acting ensemble hook our imagination.

Pearce Bunting hams it up as the malaprop-prone, scenery-chewing pirate captain Black Stache while Megan Burns gives 13-year-old Molly precociousness and power. She and Andre Shoals, who plays Molly’s father, the ship captain Lord Aster, have one of the funniest scenes in the play when they communicate in Norse code — a Viking antecedent to Morse code that Aster has taught his daughter. (He’s also taught her Dodo and Porpoise.)

Other notables include Adam Qualls as Smee, Black Stache’s bumbling first mate; Ricardo Beaird and Silas Sellnow as orphans Prentiss and Ted; James Rodriguez as scary Slank, and Craig Johnson, whose chaste Mrs. Bumbrake, Molly’s caretaker, is a sight to behold as she draws roars of laughter in a show full of joy.

Peter and the Starcatcher is a silly, boisterous good time

David and Chelsea

February 6th, 2017

Theater Latte Da has now certainly solidified itself as one of the best companies in the Twin Cities, especially for the production of musicals. It should come as no surprise then that their latest offering, Peter and the Starcatcher, is decidedly delightful. More a “play with music” than a full-blown opus, the show, written by Rick Elice, is a bit of a trifle, albeit one bursting with creative energy. It gives audiences an origin story to a favorite childhood tale about the boy who never grows up and his swashbuckling nemesis.

The story centers on Molly Aster, a thirteen-year-old know-it-all lacking in friends, who is ½ of the 6 ½ “Starcatchers” in the world. She apprentices in this profession with her father Lord Leonard Aster, and together they must fulfill a secret mission from Queen Victoria to transport a chest of “star stuff”—dust made of the remnants of falling stars that gives those who touch it immense power to fulfill their wildest dreams—to a remote island for destruction.

En route, Molly encounters Peter, a stowaway orphan bound to become snake food, who is accompanied by two similarly ill-fated youth, and the two strike up a friendship. When Lord Aster’s ship is attacked by pirates, including the aptly named Black Stache and his first mate Smee, Molly enlists Peter and the other orphan boys to save the day.

In its original Broadway iteration, many of the twelve actors played multiple characters, and director Joel Sass has whittled this down even further to a uniformly excellent cast of just nine actors. There is not a weak link in the bunch, which is led by Tyler Michaels, who lends his clear voice to the proceedings and communicates the Boy’s journey to becoming Peter Pan with expressive physicality. Pearce Bunting hilariously relishes every line of cackling wordplay as Black Stache, Megan Burns is both delightfully naïve and thoughtful as Molly, Andre Shoals deliciously steps into the role of island Fighting Prawn, and Craig Johnson as Molly’s nanny Betty Bumbrake, beguilingly babbles alliterations on her way to her own rollicking romance. Ricardo Beaird, Adam Qualls, James Rodriguez, and Silas Sellnow also provide uniquely endearing characterizations, but we only have so many words!

Perhaps, however, the most impressive feat of this cast is their chemistry as an ensemble. The madcap nature of the show demands a rapid succession of lines in continuous rhythms and they nail it, delivering a high-wire act of carefully staged movement and interplay.

Sass also serves as scenic designer, channeling vaudeville and using a number of found objects to create a fun, highly kinetic atmosphere that mirrors the ragtag adventures of Peter’s characters. Each boisterous note of Wayne Barker’s music is enhanced by Denise Prosek’s music direction, and Marcus Dilliard’s lighting design expertly accentuates the play’s many moods and goofy asides.

If there’s anything to complain about, it’s the script itself, which is admirably absurd, yet fairly shallow. It also is a bit bogged down in detail, especially in its first few scenes establishing its complicated plot schemes. But no matter, it’s pleasantly punny and features such silliness as somewhat masculine mermaids and Italian-food word spouting island natives. It’s an escapist antidote to the current news cycle and allows its audiences to find catharsis in wild, non-stop grins as they remember that we were all young dreamers once.

David and Chelsea Berglund review movies on their site Movie Matrimony.

"Peter and the Starcatcher" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

Jill SchaferCherry and Spoon

February 5th, 2017

The 2012 Broadway play with music Peter and the Starcatcher is not your typical Broadway musical, or rather, play. I was fortunate enough to see the original Broadway production and the subsequent Broadway tour, and was charmed by the innovative storytelling. I don't know how long it's been available for regional production, but I'm so glad Theater Latte Da snapped it up quickly. It's a perfect piece for the company whose motto is "we don't do musical theater, we do theater musically." And innovatively, and smartly, and brilliantly. With director Joel Sass making his Latte Da debut and a fantastic and diverse ensemble of nine actors (slightly smaller than the 12-person ensemble used on Broadway), this Peter and the Starcatcher is so charming and clever and inventive, just sheer delight from start to finish.

Peter and the Starcatcher is based on the 2004 novel Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, a prequel to the Peter Pan story with which we're all familiar. Much of the story is explained to us in narration by the ensemble. The title character is an unnamed and unloved orphan who's sold into slavery along with two other boys. They're being transported on the ship Neverland, captained by Slank and his rough and rowdy crew. Also on board are 13-year-old Molly and her nurse, Mrs. Bumbrake. Molly's father, the well-to-do and important Lord Aster, has entrusted her to the captain while he travels on a more dangerous route aboard the Wasp, on a mission for the queen. He's transporting a trunk of the mysterious "starstuff" that unbeknownst to him has been swapped with a similar trunk of worthless sand by the devious Captain Slank. Aster's ship is overtaken by pirates, namely the dastardly Black Stache and his sidekick Smee, and much hijinks and hilarity ensue as the pirates try to get the treasure and Molly and the boys try to save it and her father. The action continues in the second act as they all land on a colorful tropical island. It's a sweet and engaging story with a heroine and a hero to root for, clever puns and alliterations mixed with modern references, and a theme of home and friendship and belonging, as the unnamed boy becomes the legend that is Peter Pan.*

This truly is an ensemble in the best sense of the word, with all nine actors playing multiple parts and taking equal turns in the storytelling. Each one of them is completely invested in the playful nature of the storytelling, and they really work and play beautifully together. You could spend the entire show just watching any one of the actors, and be thoroughly entertained.

In a serendipitous (and perhaps intentional) twist of casting, Tyler Michaels reprises his role as Peter Pan, whom he played in the Children's Theatre's marvelous production a few years ago. But this is a very different Peter, a broken and hurting Peter who only wants love and a family, two things he's lived without his whole life. It's really fun to watch Tyler in that transformation from lost boy to hero, even striking the familiar hands-on-hips pose as he comes into his own. Tyler always imbues his characters with a specific physicality, and the nimble boy Peter is a perfect showcase for his unique talents.

But Tyler is by no means the only star in the show, in fact they're all stars, none less so than Megan Burns, who is perfectly delightful as our spunky heroine Molly. She just shines from the stage, with a natural charm and great energy as she plays this wonderful role model of a young woman who's smart, determined, kind, and knows how to get things done.

This wonderful ensemble also includes Ricardo Beaird and Silas Sellnow as the adorably boyish orphans; Pearce Bunting, hamming it up deliciously as the pirate Black Stache; Adam Qualls as two different but equally hilarious characters; Andre Shoals as Molly's kind and distinguished father and the leader of the island people; James Rodriguez as the conniving Captain Slank; and last but not least, the endlessly watchable Craig Johnson as the stern and loving Nanny Bumbrake and a wise mermaid.

The music is integrated organically into the script, and is often sung a capella or with minimal accompaniment by the cast beating on various objects on the set, or Silas Sellnow on various stringed instruments. On a few songs an offstage piano can be heard, presumably played by Latte Da's resident Music Director Denise Prosek. Because the music is woven seamlessly and sparingly into the story, there are no annoying applause breaks to interfere with the spell being cast.

As he often does at the Jungle, director Joel Sass has also designed the set, making for a beautiful cohesion in the production. The proscenium arch is decorated with all sorts of flotsam and jetsam (I think I recognized a few pieces from Joel's equally inventive Great Expectations at Park Square last year), while the trunks, a ladder, and the frame of a tiny room are constantly moved on and off the stage with intricate and perfectly executed choreography. Unlike the Broadway production, in which the second act looked markedly different from the first, the island set is mostly the same as the ship set, but with a tropical blue-green color projected on the backdrop (lighting design by Marcus Dilliard). Sonya Berlovitz's shabby chic costumes complete the look of the design.

Theater Latte Da is not doing a "Broadway Re-imagined" project this year, but Peter and the Starcatcher fills that hole. It was already re-imagined on Broadway, meaning the kind of innovative low-tech physical theater style of storytelling rarely seen on Broadway. This makes it the perfect Broadway show for Latte Da to put their unique spin on, and the smaller theater and smaller cast really suits the piece and offers even more opportunities for creativity, which this terrific cast and creative team have capitalized on perfectly.

Peter and the Starcatcher continues through February 26 at the Ritz Theater in Northeast Minneapolis. It's a thrill for children of all ages, even those of us devoid of starstuff who have been forced to grow up.

*Plot summary adapted from what I wrote about the Broadway tour.

Theater review: Musical ‘Starcatcher’ shoots for the sky, and will hook you

Chris HewittPioneer Press

February 5th, 2017

I’ve seen preschools full of toddlers that didn’t have as much energy as the cast of “Peter and the Starcatcher” at Theater Latte Da.

The nine actors in the cast whiz from role to role in the show, which doesn’t have quite enough songs to be called a musical but has too many to be called a straight play.

Actually, “Peter” takes the form of an English music-hall show that makes lowbrow humor highly entertaining, deftly blending bawdy digressions, raucous jokes, outrageous anachronisms and relentless puns (“You made your bed, Pan”) into an evening of frothy fun.

Regularly busting through the fourth wall — which seems to be contagious, since they’re doing the same thing over at the Guthrie’s “The Royal Family” — the actors are members of a troupe in Victorian England who share with us a story that gradually begins to acquire familiar characters and situations.

An origins story, “Peter and the Starcatcher” is to “Peter Pan” as “Wicked” is to “The Wizard of Oz,” a fairy tale that purports to show us how another fairy tale — and beloved characters such as Peter Pan, Wendy and Captain Cook — came into being.

It’s meant to be imaginative and homespun, which means “Peter and the Starcatcher” fits perfectly in Latte Da’s cozy Ritz Theater.

Director/designer Joel Sass greets us with a gorgeously organic-looking false proscenium over a set that will be used to suggest many different places but always reveals its humble origins in ropes, wooden planks, ladders, hunks of vine and pieces of picture frames. The props, too, are imaginative, with the cast using nothing more elaborate than a whistle to suggest various animals, waves and foreign tongues.

There is wonder and magic in “Peter and the Starcatcher.” Befitting the broad material, Sass seems to have encouraged the actors to make their performances as out-sized as possible and that mostly works, with Tyler Michaels’ sweet-natured boy as the grave center of the piece.

The show asks a lot of its performers, who must summon that wonder and magic from within themselves and, on opening night, I suspect not all of the actors had reached the peaks they’ll be hitting a few performances into the “Peter” run.

But some — Michaels, the wryly amusing Andre Shoals and the gut-busting Craig Johnson — are there already. Johnson confidently morphs from a gung-ho nanny to a world-weary mermaid, among many other characters, and he’s hilarious as all of them.

If the rest of the cast catches up, this could be the sort of show where you can’t stop laughing. This occasionally airborne production is so clearly headed in the right direction that I believe it can fly.


  • When: Through Feb. 26
  • Where: Ritz Theater, 345 13th Ave. NE, Mpls.
  • Tickets: $48-$35, 612-339-3003 or
  • Capsule: It’ll hook you.