When they are well done, so called “prequels” can serve as highly entertaining and intriguing adjuncts to beloved classics. Though prequels are far more common in film than in theater, there are some examples from the stage — most notably the mega-hit Broadway musical Wicked, which is largely a prequel to The Wizard of Oz.
Although it’s doubtful that Peter and the Starcatcher will ever approach the box-office success of Wicked, this new play by Rick Elice — based upon the novel of the same title, by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson — is to my mind a far more creative and satisfying prequel to its source material, J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. Brilliantly directed by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers, and now filling the Brooks Atkinson Theatre with laughter after a run downtown at the New York Theatre Workshop, Peter is a constantly delightful entertainment for audiences of all ages.
Because of the nature of the show, it’s best not to give away too many details in a review. That said, if you know about the Peter Pan connection going in, it’s obvious fairly early on which of the characters are going to become Peter and Captain Hook. (Here called “Boy” and “Black Stache,” these roles are played to perfection by Adam Chanler-Berat and Christian Borle). Somewhat less clear until the end of the narrative is exactly how a girl named Molly (Celia Keenan-Bolger, the only female member of the cast) relates to the classic story.
Fear not! The answers to this and all other questions are revealed before the final curtain — and getting there is a huge amount of fun. Peter and the Starcatcher almost completely eschews modern stage technology in favor of low-tech story theater methods that are no less captivating for being so. (On the contrary, they are more captivating for being so.) What this company does with a few lengths of rope and other basic props, under the guidance of movement director Steven Hoggett, is remarkable. Scenic design, costumes, lighting, and sound design by (respectively) Donyale Werle, Paloma Young, Jeff Croiter, and Darron L. West add to the magic, as does Wayne Barker’s music.
This is an ensemble show par excellence, so I must mention the remainder of the cast, all of whom do yeoman work: Teddy Bergman, Arnie Burton, Matt D’Amico, Kevin Del Aguila, Carson Elrod, Greg Hildreth, Rick Holmes, Isaiah Johnson, and David Rossmer, plus understudies Betsy Hogg, Orville Mendoza, Jason Ralph, and John Sanders. Long may they remain in residence at the Brooks Atkinson, bringing joy to all theatergoers who are lucky enough to venture there.