For proof of just how far the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre has elevated its game, look no further than its splendid production of "Peter and the Starcatcher," the Tony Award-winning "Peter Pan" prequel by Rick Elice and composer Wayne Barker.
Zestfully performed by a dozen actors (more than half of them Metropolis newcomers), this confidant, kinetic, warmhearted revival from director Lili-Anne Brown concludes an ambitious season that paid off commercially and critically for the Arlington Heights theater, whose future was uncertain a few short years ago.
"Peter and the Starcatcher"★ ★ ★ ½
Location: Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights, (847) 577-2121 or metropolisarts.com
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday through Aug. 20. No 3 p.m. show July 29 and Aug. 5 and 19. No 7:30 p.m. show Aug. 3 or 17.
Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes including intermission
Parking: Street parking, nearby garage
Rating: Family-friendly, suitable for most audiences
Here, in "Starcatcher's" reflected light, that future seems assured.
Based on "Peter and the Starcatchers" -- Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson's 2004 prequel to J.M. Barrie's "Peter Pan" -- the coming-of-age tale chronicles the transformation of an unnamed orphan into Peter, the boy who never ages.
Perpetually punny and action-packed, it's a well-told tale that demands of theatergoers what novels demand of readers: imagination.
But unlike more minimalist productions requiring theatergoers to imagine a 19th-century English frigate or a secluded South Sea paradise, Metropolis' "Starcatcher" features an elaborate, detailed set by Ashley Woods that's enhanced by Joe Mohamed's lovely lighting.
Newcomer Ben F. Locke -- whose engaging performance combines defiance and vulnerability -- stars as the unnamed 13-year-old orphan, whose flashbacks of his brutal childhood remind us of the darkness invariably underpinning fairy tales.
The action begins as The Boy and his fellow orphans -- self-styled leader Prentiss (Will Wilhelm) and perpetually hungry Ted (Ryan Hamman) -- are sold to the unscrupulous Slank (Cullen Rogers). Slank captains The Neverland, a ship bound for the remote island of Rundoon, where the boys will be enslaved or killed. Likely both.
The passengers include the precocious Molly Aster (plucky, prodigiously pleasing Sarah Cartwright), an apprentice starcatcher whose father -- full-fledged starcatcher Lord Aster (Patrick Byrnes) -- is traveling on a second ship with a trunk full of magical starstuff.
Dangerous business, this starstuff -- especially in the hands of a pirate like Black Stache (the nimble, aptly over-the-top Michael Pine). Stache and his crew, including henchman Smee (Luis David Cortes in a sly, perfectly timed performance), commandeer Aster's ship and confiscate the trunk they believe contains treasure.
Turns out the treasure, which is to say the starstuff, is actually on The Neverland, where quick-thinking Molly -- upon realizing it's there -- enlists the orphan boys' help to safeguard it.
A shipwreck, encounters with hostile natives and a romance -- between Molly's punny nanny/tutor Mrs. Bumbrake (a very amusing Will Kazda) and reformed scalawag Alf (Rachel Christianson) -- ensue in this theatrically aware production, whose references run the gamut from the Book of Matthew and poet John Donne, to composer Philip Glass and R&B singer Kelis.
To that end, choreographer Brigitte Ditmar tips her hat to Florenz Ziegfeld-style spectacles and classic Hollywood musicals in the gleefully silly, beautifully executed production number that opens the second act. Dressed in Rachel S. Parent's shimmering, jewel-toned costumes (complete with bedazzled bikini tops), members of the ensemble play fish transformed into mermaids by errant starstuff. It is, like much of Brown's production, a delight.
Unfortunately, the show itself could use some trimming. Moreover, some of the actors tend to rush the punchlines. For example, Stache's meta-theatrical quip about audience members paying for parking and nannies went by so fast it barely registered with the opening night audience. But those are minor points in what is an enormously entertaining production.