Never growing up never grows old


For many, the characters in “Peter and the Star Catcher” will stir a sense of déja-vu from countless childhood books, stories and films.

The cast includes orphans, pirates and magicians, larger-than-life personalities who feel familiar and unknown at the same time. There’s something cherished about these roles, but the connection never obvious. Here, that balance between old and new is quite a feat, considering these personages are straight out of a children’s story that’s been a cultural touchstone for nearly a century.

The show by Rick Elice tells the back story behind Peter Pan, the Lost Boys and Captain Hook. Based on the book by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, the show sketches out the history behind the Peter Pan story first told by Scottish author J.M. Barrie and later revisited in Disney flicks and big-budget Hollywood movies. The familiar elements are all here in some form: Neverland, mermaids, the giant crocodile and pixie dust all figure in to the story in some sense.

But this charming, funny and endearing production is far from a tired rehashing of old, familiar ingredients.

The Broadway show, which kicked off its national tour last week in Denver, shows a degree of innovation, creativity and inspiration that’s rare in stage adaptations. Directors Roger Rees and Alex Timbers lead a show that veers far afield from the standard Peter Pan story, even as it takes delightful liberties with basic concepts of stagecraft, blocking and music.

The scenery is bare bones and big-budget stage effects are nowhere to be seen. The show relies instead on old-fashioned innovation to convey the damp, cramped feel of a ship’s galley and the lush, vibrant ambience of a tropical island. A crew of 12 actors play a wide-ranging cast of nearly 100 characters; they manipulate ropes and ladders to recreate the swaying deck of a pirate ship or the depths of the ocean.

But the stagecraft isn’t the most impressive element. The real mystery and delight of the show is in story and performance. The actors’ energy, wit and versatility gives life to this delightful reimagining. This isn’t a cheap rip-off of a well-known children’s story. “Peter and the Star Catcher” pays loving tribute to the story of the boy who refused to grow up, even as it offers its own narrative insights and delights.

The show takes its basic cues from the storytelling in Barry and Pearson’s book – the plot focuses on a rag-tag band of English orphans who have been conscripted to a ship bound for Rangoon. Among them is a nameless 13-year-old who’s never had a proper family, a boy who’s nurtured a mistrust of grown-ups. As the boys board the ship named the Neverland, we meet other characters bound to ring bells. There’s Black Stache (an early version of Captain Hook), his loyal servant Smee and Molly Aster, a young girl with eventual connections to the Darling children, Wendy, Michael and John.

Apart from those basic ties, the story steers clear of direct references to Barrie’s original story. Pirates hijack a chest of magical star dust from the Neverland to another pirate ship. A chase on the high seas follows, as does an eventual shipwreck on a tropical island. It’s revealed that Molly and her father Lord Aster are guardians of this magical star dust, mystical stuff that boasts all kinds of magical properties. The Boy (who eventually takes on the moniker Peter Pan), his fellow “Lost Boys” and Black Stache are all pulled in to the quest to retrieve the dust.

Elice’s script includes some moments of heavy drama, but the real delight comes in the show’s comic sensibilities. As Black Stache, John Sanders is one of the show’s clear standouts. He’s vaudevillian clown, a dynamic comic who lights up the stage with every scene. Harter Clingman, Benjamin Schrader and Megan Stern also shine in ensemble roles, as does Joey DeBettencourt in the lead role of Peter.

Paired with an engrossing story, a refreshingly minimal approach to effects and a loving respect for the original Peter Pan story, these performances make the familiar feel fresh. This may not be the Peter Pan story many grew up with, but the magical, mystery and majesty of those childhood tales mark every second of this delightful show.

Reach reporter Adam Goldstein at 720-449-9707 or [email protected]

“Peter and the Star Catcher” 

Runs until Sept. 1, the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, Denver Center for the Performing Arts, 1101 13th St., Denver.

Information: 303-893-4100 or

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