If a rambunctious group of young, lost boys were asked to stage a play, it would result in the lightning-fast pace and deliciously witty humor that pervades “Peter and the Starcatcher” at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, playing through Oct. 26.
This is a collaboration between the University of Miami (UM) and the Arsht Center to provide students pursuing Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees the opportunity to perform in a professional environment. Out of the 12-person cast, 10 performers are UM students.
The Arsht Center was the first regional theater to be granted the rights to produce the show since it played on Broadway and in a national tour. Ring Theatre Director Henry Fonte attempted to recreate and re-envision the entire show, beginning with new stage directions and a completely original set design.
From the get-go, the audience was off on a fantastic journey into the untold origins of Peter Pan, “The Boy Who Never Grew Up,” in this five-time Tony award-winning play.
With jokes about Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” and milkshakes bringing “all the boys to the yard,” the comedy struck a balance between contemporary humor and its setting during the peak of British imperialism.
It would be an understatement to say that the fourth wall was broken. The imaginary divide between the audience and the actors came catapulting down, smashed by the performer’s constant quips toward the audience and narration of their characters’ thoughts and feelings.
As the play begins, the audience meets an orphan who cannot remember his name, has no friends and is dubbed “boy.” This boy (senior Joshua Jacobson) develops throughout the production and is eventually given the name Peter.
Jacobson created moving moments of self-doubt and eventual self-discovery as Peter comes into his own and discovers what he had always been seeking: a home.
Molly Astor (senior Abigail Berkowitz) shone as the lone female in the cast, distinguishing herself with her clever plans and laser-sharp focus on her mission to protect the trunk full of “star stuff,” remnants of stars that contain magic. Berkowitz also expertly navigated the turbulent waters of emotional pre-adolescence.
Among the rest of the cast, Mrs. Bumbrake (sophomore Thomas Jansen) added a dose of absurdity to the situation as Jansen played a British nanny set on protecting Molly. Senior Alejandro Gonzalez del Pino reveled in his role as Fighting Prawn, chief of the island natives. Ted (junior Timothy Boehm-Manion) sent giggles throughout the crowd with his insatiable hunger and ongoing quest to eat a pineapple.
Youthful and imaginative, the staging turned child’s play into an intricate romp around the set, which contained two levels as well as two main structures connected by a winding bridge. The set was a jungle gym that punctuated the immense energy unleashed by the cast into their constantly changing roles.
The cast of 12 portrayed more than 100 characters including pirates, lost boys, island natives and inanimate objects. Just as young boys would play make-believe, the majority of props were substituted for the boys themselves who acted as a ship, cat, door, ocean, stars, bird, horse, tree and even an airborne leviathan.
The production is reflective of Neverland’s fanciful nature. The cast are young-at-heart performers who are just playing make-believe.
While the show made the audience feel like it had ingested pixie dust and was off on a wild ride to Neverland, the cacophony of sights and sounds served a greater purpose.
Thoughtful pauses punctuated the production – as Mrs. Bumbrake would alliterate – allowing for side scenes and narration to carry the plot along. Though doused in comedy, the production centers around the theme of the inevitable fact that children grow up.
If, as Black Stache the pirate claimed, “time will be our treasure,” then audiences should invest their time into this gem.