Theater Review: Weston finds magic in ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’

Photo by Hubert Schriebl  Molly (Rose Hemingway) prepares to fight in “Peter and the Starcatcher.” In the background, from left, are Lord Aster (John Leonard Thompson), Hawking Clam (Matt Gibson) and Ted (Devin Johnson).

Photo by Hubert Schriebl
Molly (Rose Hemingway) prepares to fight in “Peter and the Starcatcher.” In the background, from left, are Lord Aster (John Leonard Thompson), Hawking Clam (Matt Gibson) and Ted (Devin Johnson).

THE LOWE DOWN  |  By Jim Lowe

There was a dearth of youngsters at Friday’s opening night performance of “Peter and the Starcatcher” at Weston Playhouse, but the adults were certainly enjoying themselves thoroughly at this theatrical romp that explains how an unnamed orphan became Peter Pan.

Now it’s time to bring the kids — but older folks will certainly have a rollicking good time too.

“Peter and the Starcatcher” uses the vaudeville-slapstick style of Weston Playhouse Theatre Company’s three-actor “The 39 Steps,” but multiplies it by four — 12 actors playing more than a hundred characters — with all sorts of 19th-century special effects.

It’s a delightful action-adventure fairy tale full of recognizable characters. And it’s a delight.

Rick Elice based “Peter and the Starcatcher” on the 2006 novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, which in turn is a prequel to J.M. Barrie’s tale of Peter Pan, “Peter and Wendy.”

The play premiered in California at the La Jolla Playhouse in 2009, moving to off-Broadway in 2011, then Broadway 2013-14, where it won five Tony Awards.

The tale begins with Lord Aster and his daughter Molly on a mission for Queen Victoria, transporting a mysterious trunk to a tropical island. Aster plans to take the trunk on the Wasp, the fastest ship afloat, while he places a dummy trunk and his precious daughter on the much slower Neverland.

Before embarking, though, the trunks are switched by Swank, the nefarious captain of the Neverland, who also locks Molly and her nanny Mrs. Bumbrake in their cabin. Molly escapes the cabin and discovers three orphan boys being held prisoner, including one with no name.

Meanwhile, the Wasp is taken over by pirates, led by Black Stache, etc., etc. Clearly, this is an adventure for the kids — but full of double entendres, references and humor that only their parents will get.

Weston’s production, directed and choreographed by resident director Michael Berresse, was a miracle of coordination. Not only did the actors need to change characters, and frequently costumes, in milliseconds, they needed to manipulate Timothy Mackabee’s incredibly inventive and complex set constantly into new locations, with the help of Seth Reiser’s imaginative lighting.

It didn’t hurt to have a most skillful cast. Most memorable were Matthew Wilkas’ deliciously and hysterically evil — with just a touch of camp — Black Stache, and the wry wit of the intrepid mature-beyond-her-years — though not always — Molly.

Joining them was Weston’s inimitable comic Tom Aulino as Molly’s randy nanny Mrs. Bumbrake. Adam Shonkwiler was delightfully and childishly earnest as the boy Peter. The entire cast was pretty even Friday, with only a few opening night “moments.” The cast was complemented by the colorful, often funny costumes by Leon Dobrowski, music direction by Max Grossman and sound design by Ed Chapman.

But, Weston’s “Peter and the Starcatcher” isn’t just an incredible showcase of theatrical magic, it’s a rollicking good adventure for all ages.

Weston Playhouse
Weston Playhouse Theatre Company presents “Peter and the Starcatcher,” by Rick Elice, July 17-26 at Weston Playhouse, 12 Park St. in Weston. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, plus 2 p.m. matinees Wednesday and Saturday. Tickets are $52-$39, half-price for students; call 824-5288, or go online to

Jim Lowe is music critic and arts editor for the Rutland Herald and The Barre-Montpelier Times Argus.