Peter and the Starcatcher

Written by Rick Elise
Directed by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers
Featuring Adam Chanler-Berat, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Christian Borle, Carson Elrod

New York Theatre Workshop, 79 East 4th Street
February 18, 2011 (1st preview)  — April 17, 2011 (extension)
production web site:

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
March 13, 2011

Standing center (L-R): David Rossmer, Adam Chanler-Berat, Carson Elrod, Teddy Bergman.  Photo by Joan Marcus

Peter and the Starcatcher captures time in a bottle and Tinkerbell with a light trick.  We meet the characters that will populate the children’s literature juggernaut Peter Pan (story, play, films, animated adventures) before the familiar story. Wicked tells gives us Oz before Dorothy drops in, this gives us Neverland before Wendy drops in, with a Dorothy / Wendy-like adventurous leading girl who reminds us of Wendy for a reason.

In the days of Queen Victoria‘s reign (“God save her”, as the characters would intone) a band of orphan lads including Peter (Adam Chanler-Berat), Ted (David Rossmer) and Prentiss (Carson Elrod) are sent off to sea by their school master (think the workhouse operators in Oliver Twist).  A conflation of ship action dominates the Act One involving one ship helmed by pirates led by Black Stache (Christian Borle, who frequently calls to mind the stunningly fey original musical Hook Cyril Ritchard), and one helmed by a British sea captain held by those pirates and visited by Lord Aster (Karl Kenzler) and his daughter  Molly (Celia Keenan-Bolger).  Orphan Peter becomes Peter Pan, the boy who won’t grow up and can fly (and this play tells us how he gains that ability, and it’s not by wishing it were so); Black Stache becomes Captain Hook.  And we are left to dream.

The unraveling of the story forging connections to J.M. Barrie‘s original yarn is just part of the fun of this charming piece.  Ensemble physical action, minimum of set pieces and maximum of ingenuity (including rope held at right angles to represent a picture frame or a television screen, paper cut out monster teeth, spray bottle sea spray).  All the of pyrotechnics are perfectly visible and simply enchanting and kept moving and airborne by directors Roger Rees and Alex Timbers.

Musical moments are rare in the more somber first act and more frequent in the second.  Act Two opens with a cast of “mermaids” in grass skirts and bras made of found objects, evoking memories of South Pacific’s “Honey Bun” with those visuals and lyrics describing the evolution of fish into mermaids via the magic in the water (see the show to find out what I’m talking about) including “soon you’re growing hair / soon it’s long and curly / soon you’re acting girlie.”

The set design by Donyale Werle (Timbers’ set designer for Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) is flexible and powerful — it’s all a bedtime story in this version of storytelling, so shipboard adventures Act One are skirted by rope rigging and a ladder or two and piled sea chests and squirt bottles providing sea spray over the deck.  Act Two’s island-based sea adventures are highlighted by blue light illuminated plastic bags and outsized plastic fish.  And a fake pineapple.  And it all works.

It is my hope that the temptation is resisted to blow up this small and intentionally rough hewn set piece to a larger Broadway house.  On a larger scale it may suffer the same challenges as Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (created and directed by Mr. Timbers and designed by Donyale Werle) did when it moved from an intimate to a larger venue.  Peter and the Starcatcher works in this way, told in this manner, because the scale is small and focus absolute.  The three-year-olds in front of me and the 70-year-olds behind me, though laughing at different moments, similarly enjoyed this adventure.  Like Rocky and Bullwinkle‘s Fractured Fairy Tales, this play is scripted to play to the adults in the audience while shticking to the kids — and is not above a good fart joke.


© Martha Wade Steketee (March 14, 2011)


  1. This is based on a book that has NO respect for the original story. There are a TON of mistakes in it, as per Barrie’s original tales. In fact, Pan HAS a backstory and they completely ignore it. They even change personalities and the very reason Pan doesn’t grow up. How can they be so disrespectful? List of Differences

    There is a faithful novel that’s based on Barrie’s notes for more adventure: Click!

    And this is a great ‘What if?’ story charting a new course for it all while anchored in Barrie’s core ideas and themes. Click!


  2. I admit I don’t know the book that forms the source material for the production I reviewed — I do say, however, that the piece of theatre that I witnessed worked, and was genuinely witty.

    And as far as I can tell the authors and adapters of “Peter and the Starcatcher” don’t claim any link to Barrie’s original work other than it inspired them. This is presented as, and I in fact interpreted it as, an *imagined* prequel to J.M.Barrie’s original work, not intended as disrespect but as homage.

    But thank you for your references to this other work.

  3. I just don’t see how rewriting somebody’s work erroneously can be called “homage” nor even why one would imagine something that’s already given to us.
    :) And if its supposed to be a prequel to the Disney version (as the publisher is Hyperion, aka Disney) they contradict THAT, too. ;)

    And jsut to be clear, I didn’t mean any disrespect to you and your article. It’s just a shame that something else grew from it, in my opinion.

    Thanks for letting my comments and links stay! :D

  4. I respect your passion and I respect your in depth knowledge of the original source material. I share such passion for other materials and performance artists, and understand that artistic creations can be aggravating when they run counter to one’s perspectives.

    However (and this is a big however), artists have been inspired by the work of others for millenia, and will continue to generate works based on others. Copyright law exists to protect legally improper use of materials. Other than that, with full disclosure and full annotation of sources, artistic creations based on existing work is fair game.

    I have to swallow hard to take a wide range of “artistic creations” that are crafted in the name of “honoring” Judy Garland, for example. It’s not a secret if one reads my blog for any length of time that I am a fan of the woman and her work. When tribute concerts are exercises in ego (as the Rufus Wainwright concerts were, in my view) or plays are crafted out of whole cloth that are presented and written about as true representations of her life (such as “End of the Rainbow” recently/currently running in London, about which the playwright himself has said that he didn’t want to get too bogged down with facts when writing it and admits making things up — about a time in London about six months before she died) .. well, all you can do is point out discrepancies. I will support the playwright’s right to craft a piece with Garland as a character. I rail against pieces such as this that make up stories and present them as fact, and don’t bother clarifying that for the audiences that see the show believing they are being presented with a slice of Garland’s life.

    In your case, pointing out that Barrie himself wrote notes for his own ideas of the backstory of Peter is fascinating. And thank you for adding that in here. What one can’t do, in my view, is say that it is wrong for the crafters of “Peter and the Starcatcher” to craft a new work of art that is inspired by Barrie’s published work. You may differ with the word “homage” … I differed with the word “tribute” appended to Wainiwright’s evening of songs based on a famous Garland concert. But he had the right I suppose to do what he did. And so do the artists here.

  5. My issue is that it’s not a work inspired by it in the sense of “re-imagining” or reworking it. I wouldn’t have a problem with it if that were the case. ‘Re-do” or put a “new take” on Peter Pan all (you) want, that’s fine. These books, however, are meant to be a contiguous part of the story, to tell what happened prior to the events of the novel and thus lead up to them and include them. It cannot be so with all those errors in it. And the backstory is already written by Barrie – it’s part of the novel ‘The Little White Bird’ (the chapters regarding Pan were republished as ‘Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens’) His notes were for a story after ‘Peter and Wendy’ (the novel of the play ‘Peter Pan’ [both Barrie])

    • my wonder is if the children’s hospital which evidently holds the rights to “Peter Pan” usage…was contacted (not only in this case but others in the past)…They have in recent past acknowledged a book written in what they consider to be in the best of “after Barrie” style for lack of any other term at the moment…It is called, “Peter Pan in Scarlet”…and deals with later events as opposed to prior. I believe Tim Curry is the reader voice for audio books of ‘Peter Pan” and “Peter Pan in Scarlet”…worth a listen, for one self or for those with kids…bedtime listening for your imagination.

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