Like his eponymous character, J.M. Barrie’s tale of never growing up seems to never grow too old for a new audience. Cape Fear Regional Theatre will showcase the latest telling of the boy who refuses to grow up with “Peter and the Starcatcher” onstage Oct. 27 through Nov. 11.
Barrie’s very own Peter first made an appearance in a chapter of his novel “The Little White Bird” in 1902. Barrie then made Peter the center of his play “Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up” in 1904. Following the play’s success, Barrie republished a few chapters of the first book under the title “Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens” in 1906. Barrie then expanded on the play’s storyline in his 1911 novel “Peter and Wendy.”
The story of Peter Pan, Wendy, Tinker Bell, the Lost Boys and Captain Hook has been entertaining audiences of all ages in books, plays, movies and television shows ever since.
“Peter and the Starcatcher” is intended to be a prequel of sorts to the story of Peter Pan. It is based on the 2004 children’s book “Peter and the Starcatchers” by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. Their book was adapted for stage by Rick Elice with music by Wayne Barker. It uses an ensemble cast to portray several characters to include children, sailors, pirates, naval officers, natives and orphans.
“It is an incredible origin story,” said Mary Kate Burke, CFRT artistic director. “It’s a smart, funny adaptation of characters everyone knows so well.”
The story, Burke said, offers something for adults and children. “It’s about growing up, (asking) when does childhood end, and also (examining the) choices we make about growing up. And there’s pirates and swashbuckling and mermaids!”
The play provides a backstory for beloved characters Peter Pan, Wendy, Tinker Bell, Mrs. Darling, Captain Hook and even a certain crocodile many may remember.
“We know the end,” said Timothy John Smith, who plays pirate Black Stache, but “we’ll see those familiar characters before they became those characters.”
“Peter and the Starcatcher” takes the audience on an adventure on the high seas and on Mollusk Island as a young girl named Molly befriends an orphan boy and together they battle pirates and thieves to keep a magical secret safe. The two face marauding pirates and jungle tyrants while the play explores the depths of greed, despair and the bonds of friendship, duty and love.
If it sounds too heavy for some younger viewers, the script also includes poetry, fart jokes, lyricism and many Easter eggs that are sure to keep audience members of all ages interested.
The heavy moments are balanced, said Paul Urriola, who plays Alf, a sailor aboard The Never Land. “(The writer) lightly weaves in brevity and humor into heavy moments.” He said it makes for a fun performance.
Alf is a character who is new to the Peter Pan narrative. The audience doesn’t know him or how his story plays out, so we will get to see him transformed by his love for Mrs. Bumbake, Molly’s nanny, Urriola said. The role of Alf is only a slight departure from the actor’s last time on the CFRT stage, where he played Horton in “Seussical.”
For those die-hard Pan enthusiasts, your reward is learning how the orphan becomes the legendary Peter Pan, what exactly a “starcatcher” is, what makes Peter fly and where that ticking crocodile came from. For those new to Pan, the tale promises to be fun and adventurous.
When first staged, the original production of “Peter and the Starcatcher” deliberately used minimal sets and props. Subsequent productions have followed suit, staging scenes that relied on suggestion and imagination to do the storytelling instead of expensive, elaborate set pieces.
Using stagecraft instead of elaborate sets and props mimics a child’s imagination, where children will use whatever props are available to carry out their adventures.
“Something as basic as two beds become so much,” said Urriola. “The beds are beds, rooms and ships.”
The characters use their imaginations to create another world.
“It’s like kids in the backyard thinking, ‘what can we use to be a ship?’” said Becca Vourvoulas, who plays Mrs. Bumbrake. That creativity is something that has been both fun and challenging as an actor, she added.
Creating such effects as water without the use of water is a challenge that director Michelle Tattenbaum is eager to present to CFRT audiences.
“Looking at the script on the page and having to turn it into something magical … has been discovery and invention in the rehearsal room,” Tattenbaum said. The result, which is a testament to the strengths and quirkiness of the actors, she says, will entertain the audience.
“Kids will be like – ‘yeah, this is what theater is,’ and their parents will feel childlike and surprised,” Tattenbaum said. “Parents will come out with a sense of magic.”
Tattenbaum’s cast includes Urriola, Vourvoulas and Smith, as well as Graham Baker as Peter and Malena Pennycook as Molly.
“Peter and the Starcatcher” runs Oct. 27-Nov. 11. Military Appreciation Night will be Nov. 1 at 7:30 p.m. A Sensory Friendly Performance sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield will be Nov. 4 at 2 p.m. Both of these performances will feature discounted ticket prices.
Burke said the Sensory Friendly Performance is a “shush-free” performance designed for individuals with autism spectrum disorders, sensory sensitivities or other disabilities. During this performance, patrons can enjoy the play with family in an inclusive, relaxed space.
Modifications intended to make the experience more pleasant include more space for audience members, lighting and sound adjustments, and an additional separate viewing room equipped with closed circuit television.
These modifications can also alleviate the pressure on the parents, Burke said, for families who might have one child with a sensory issue and another child without. A parent’s guide for the play is also provided.
It is also a good first point of entry to the theater for families with children who might not otherwise enjoy a regular performance where they have to sit still and be quiet for up to two hours, Burke said.
To reserve your tickets or get more information, visit www.cfrt.org or call 910-323-4233.