Drury Lane's 'Starcatcher' a well-told tale and jolly good time

  • Recent college graduate Caleb Donahoe makes his Drury Lane Theatre debut as the titular character in the "Peter Pan" prequel "Peter and the Starcatcher."

    Recent college graduate Caleb Donahoe makes his Drury Lane Theatre debut as the titular character in the "Peter Pan" prequel "Peter and the Starcatcher." Courtesy of Brett Beiner

  • Matt Mueller, second from right, plays Black Stache, a foppish, malapropism-prone pirate pursuing The Boy who will become Peter in the well-told "Peter and the Starcatcher" at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace.

    Matt Mueller, second from right, plays Black Stache, a foppish, malapropism-prone pirate pursuing The Boy who will become Peter in the well-told "Peter and the Starcatcher" at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace. Courtesy of Brett Beiner

  • A chorus of mermaids explain how they came to be in Drury Lane Theatre's delightful "Peter and the Starcatcher."

    A chorus of mermaids explain how they came to be in Drury Lane Theatre's delightful "Peter and the Starcatcher." Courtesy of Brett Beiner

  • Molly (Emma Rosenthal, center) meets lost boys Ted (Zack Colonna, from left), Prentice (Aaron Kirby) and Boy (Caleb Donahoe) in Rick Elice's play with music, "Peter and the Starcatcher."

    Molly (Emma Rosenthal, center) meets lost boys Ted (Zack Colonna, from left), Prentice (Aaron Kirby) and Boy (Caleb Donahoe) in Rick Elice's play with music, "Peter and the Starcatcher." Courtesy of Brett Beiner

  • Recent college graduate Caleb Donahoe makes his Drury Lane Theatre debut as the titular character in the "Peter Pan" prequel "Peter and the Starcatcher."

    Recent college graduate Caleb Donahoe makes his Drury Lane Theatre debut as the titular character in the "Peter Pan" prequel "Peter and the Starcatcher." Courtesy of Brett Beiner

 
 
Updated 9/5/2015 7:45 PM

It all comes down to the story. And how well it's told.

"Peter and the Starcatcher," the amusingly alliterative play with music by Rick Elice, is an engaging tale. And Drury Lane Theatre's spirited regional premiere under artistic director William Osetek is exceptionally well-told.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Adapted from Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson's "Peter Pan" prequel, with songs by Wayne Barker, "Peter and the Starcatcher" imagines how J.M. Barrie's beloved Boy Who Would Not Grow Up came to be, in essence, a coming-of-age tale for a boy who never ages.

There's nothing especially showy about the production, which unfolds on Scott Davis' purposefully plain set consisting of a low wooden platform, a couple of trunks, heavy ropes and a pair of scaffolds where conductor/keyboardist Ben Johnson and percussionist Rich Trelease preside.

But what "Peter and the Starcatcher" lacks in glitz, Drury Lane's production makes up with gusto and superb performances from a talented, indefatigable cast led by newcomer Caleb Donahoe and veterans Matt Mueller and Emma Rosenthal.

The rapid-fire puns -- impeccably timed and gleefully delivered -- will leave you feeling punch-drunk. The physical antics will leave you drained. The actors, most of whom play multiple roles, sprint, scramble, swing from ropes and strut their stuff as mermaids in the show's sole production number. And they do it all with good humor and obvious affection.

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That said, the overly long, overly plotty "Starcatcher" falls a bit short of perfection. The show occasionally gets carried away with its own cleverness, and the explanation for why Peter can never leave Neverland is both confusing and unconvincing.

Still, there is much to recommend this theatrically self-aware "Starcatcher," which unfolds story-theater style, with the actors stepping outside their roles to narrate (and occasionally comment) on action. At times, they even provide scenery, when they're not chewing it -- intentionally and uproariously.

The tale begins with two ships bound for a distant land. One carries a trunk full of stardust accompanied by Lord Aster (Rod Thomas). The other carries Aster's apprentice starkeeper daughter, a natural leader named Molly (the warm and feisty Rosenthal, who has real comic flair). She finds among the cargo three orphans who've been sold by their brutal headmaster as snake bait. Molly takes them under her wing, including the abused and betrayed Boy who will become Peter (played with innocence and authenticity by the endearing Donahoe). Battles and shipwrecks, encounters with a crocodile and a mermaid ensue, along with skirmishes with treasure-seeking pirates, led by aspiring villain Black Stache (played with foppish swagger by the dynamic, deliciously scene-stealing Mueller).

"Peter and the Starcatcher" explains, in true origin-tale form, how a boy and his fellow orphans found themselves in Neverland, how Hook became Hook, how Peter became Peter and why the Darling family fascinates him so. All in all, it's an enchanting tale, cleverly told and well worth seeing.

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