REVIEW: "Peter and the Starcatcher" — (IVRT) Inland Valley Repertory Theatre

Updated: Jun 20, 2020

"This Ship Has Sailed, But the Magic Still Lives!"

J. M. Barrie believed fiercely in the wisdom of children. “I am not young enough to know everything,” he once wrote. In his book, “Peter Pan,” Barrie created a figure not unlike himself, a nameless orphan who never had the chance to be a child, happily trapped in perpetual boyhood. So when Peter lands in the window of Wendy’s bedroom, we are all entranced. But, many of us have wondered at one time or another, where did this magical flying boy come from?

That answer lies within Inland Valley Repertory Theatre’s “Peter and the Starcatcher,” just finishing their run November 6th at the prestigious Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater in Claremont, a larky séance play featuring many of Barrie’s mythical characters, presented in part pantomime, part story theatre, but altogether delightful. This well-told tale, with book by Rick Elise and music by Wayne Barker, is superbly directed by Gary Krinke (“Footloose,”“Jesus Christ, Superstar”) and is based on the 2004 novel by Dave Barry (yes! That Dave Barry) and Ridley Pearson.

Opening on Broadway in 2012 after a preview at La Jolla Playhouse, it was fashioned as a prequel to Peter’s adventures with the Darling family — how Peter got his name and his flying mojo, how Captain Hook lost his hand, and how the crocodile got its tick-tock. It also introduces us to a piquant array of new characters, including the marauding denizens of Mollusk Island, who speak a patois composed entirely of war cries gleaned from Italian menus and wine lists — “Gnocchi! Cannoli!” Other nautical gibberish such as Dodo and Norse Code are also spoken in the play. “Furrow the jib and let fly the frammistan!” one old salt shouts.

“Peter and the Starcatcher” is an amazing, farcical journey, set to a minimalist stage, but spectacle, wit, and joy spill out of it like treasure from a magic pocket. A cast of fourteen (including one sole female), a couple of trunks, and a versatile length of rope yield more storytelling than most oversize spectaculars can manage. There’s a naval battle, an island full of savages, and a mermaid chorus, and all the trappings look as if they can fit inside a conch shell.

The charm of the storytelling in the show is as important as the story itself. Barrie saw children as carefree and innocent, and even somewhat heartless — to be at once naïve, knowing, and playful. “Use your thoughts,” a character advises the audience, which is made to see things that aren’t there. In this scintillating game of show-and-tell (which is supported by the quirky genius of Mark Mackenzie’s scenic design and Gary and Linda Krinke’s costumes), toy ships become real ones, banana leaves become pirate shields, ropes become windows or waves, and auto dealer pennant flags become the maw of a behemoth crocodile; even the most basic yellow rubber gloves are transformed into flitting tropical birds, or even a pixie!

As far as aerial stunts, there is no free flight through the Candlelight. The boy Peter (Hayden Mangum) does get to the point of takeoff, but never actually flies in the show, although the Director’s many inventive visual transformations banish gravity so adroitly that we feel as though he does.

In one scene, the perky and patrician Molly (who later becomes the mother of Wendy), played by Haley Rubin, after falling ever so slightly for Peter on board the pirate ship, gives him a word of encouragement: “To have faith is to have wings.”

She then ingests a liberal dose of her father's “Starstuff,” crosses her legs and proceeds to levitate before our eyes “Jeannie-Style,” at least for a second — a piece of astonishment that is manufactured in plain sight by the help of a couple of actors pushing down on the opposite end of the plank she is sitting on.