For the record, nobody flies in “Peter and the Starcatcher.”
The non-Equity tour of this Tony-winning Broadway hit, adapted by Rick Elice from a best-selling novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, is a lively prequel to “Peter Pan.”
The performances are strong and one — Joe Beuerlein as Black Stache, the incompetent pirate who will become Capt. Hook — is outstanding.
The original Broadway staging by co-directors Roger Rees and Alex Timbers is “re-created” by Shawn Pennington for this tour, and much of it is exceedingly clever. This show is meant to impress and amuse with no scenery other than what the actors can suggest with a couple of toy ships and hand props. The intentionally anachronistic dialogue is a mashup of 19th century flourishes, shameless puns and incongruous one-liners that would be at home in a sitcom. Some of it is irresistibly amusing.
The material is comfortably PG, although it’s not exactly a family show. Much of the sardonic humor seems aimed at an adult audience.
The purpose of the tale is to explain how Peter became Peter Pan, how his companions became the Lost Boys and how Black Stache became Capt. Hook. Most of the “Peter Pan” tropes, including an alarm clock, an unseen crocodile and a little bird that becomes Tinker Bell, are present.
This is not a musical, but there are occasional songs by Wayne Barker that suggest the spirit of English music halls.
The plot involves two ships — the Never Land and the Wasp — embarking on a dangerous journey to the distant land of Rundoon. Aboard the Wasp is Lord Aster (Andy Ingalls), who is transporting a trunk full of treasure in the name of Queen Victoria. His tween daughter Molly (Aisling Halpin) is on a second ship, the run-down Never Land, which carries an identical trunk filled with sand and placed as a decoy.
But the trunks are switched, causing plenty of confusion and consternation among the pirates who commandeer the Wasp. Molly, meanwhile, decides to go exploring. Deep in the hold she finds Boy (Bryan Welnicki) and two companions (James Crichton and Nick Lehan), who appear to be prisoners on their way to a bad end.
Eventually they all end up on Mollusk Island, where the natives are led by Fighting Prawn (a highly amusing Thomas Demarcus), who harbors hatred for the English and speaks like an Italian chef.
Welnicki is effective and, toward the end, quite poignant as Boy, who becomes the ageless youth who will spend eternity in a suspended state of adolescence. In the early going Tuesday night the show didn’t quite gel as it should have — timing seemed a little off — but it came to life after intermission.
The chief reason is Beuerlein, whose performance as Black Stache takes flight. There’s a fine bit of slapstick in which the pirate chief, in a state of distress, repeats one line — “Oh, my God!” — for a solid five minutes, maybe longer. It’s an improv actor’s dream and Beuerlein finds a seemingly infinite variety of ways to say the line, rather like an inspired blues guitarist who plays an extended solo without once repeating himself. It’s wonderful to watch.
At that point it became Beuerlein’s show and deservedly so. What’s most remarkable about the sequence is that I never caught any other member of the cast breaking character during Beuerlein’s routine. Yes, I know, they see it every night. But I doubt the actor does it exactly the same way two performances in a row.
His fellow performers, watching his antics with unwavering deadpan expressions, help create the most impressive sequence in the show.
The play drags as it works its way to the final curtain, mainly because Elice spends too much time resolving the plot threads and explaining how it all connects to “Peter Pan” — or, to be precise, J.M. Barrie’s novel “Peter and Wendy.” Most viewers will have figured it out before intermission.