Prequels to Peter Pan have been prevalent as of late, from television’s Once Upon a Time, to a Tinkerbell movie featuring Tom Hiddleston as a young James Hook, to the recent Hugh Jackman vehicle, Pan. In all those examples, however, the focus has been on the pirate captain’s backstory rather than the boy who never grows up. Maybe it’s because villains are inherently interesting, or perhaps it’s because it seems logical to desire avoiding the responsibilities of adulthood. Or maybe Ridley Pearson and Dave Barry locked the rights to Peter’s childhood up tight. For whatever reason, the best glimpse we have into a justification for eternal youth comes from this writer/director duo in the musical Peter and the Starcatcher.
The story was first published in 2006 by Barry and Pearson as the first novel in a trilogy meant for middle-grade readers. It was quickly adapted into a musical by Rick Elice who, while having written a couple original plays, has found a niche adapting popular culture for the stage with Jersey Boys and The Addams Family. The music was written by Wayne Barker, and each of them was honored with a Tony nomination for the score and play. Even so, the play’s run on Broadway lasted less than a year, and that means we’re able to see it produced here, by Twin City Squared at Parkland Theatre.
With less than a year’s worth of productions itself, Twin City Squared seems to be gathering around it a list of “usual suspects”, and this play presents opportunities for several local favorites. It seems like I can’t go a full month without mentioning Mikel Matthews, Jr., who has taken to the stage this time as opposed to directing. Evan Seggebruch, who was recently in a Mikel Matthews production, Bat Boy the musical, takes the helm as the captain of a ship, and Grant Morenz appears as his adversary, Black Stache. Isaiah Asplund and Jace Jamison, also recently seen being directed by Matthews in American Idiot return as pirate-ship crew (among other things). Jim Dobbs and John Tilford — staples of the comedic theatre cast in C-U — will also grace the stage…gracefully. You’ll see what I mean.
True to the tradition of Peter Pan, this prequel sets up the female characters as the most competent and responsible. Unlike the Barrie classic, however, Peter and the Starcatcher allows its heroine a role outside of the domestic, because she is the titular “Starcatcher”. Although she is just an apprentice and young enough for a nanny, Molly Aster becomes responsible for the safety of some precious cargo. I’m eager to see how another American Idiot alum, Katina Bolos, will tackle the role of the much younger girl. In counter-balance, there’s only one other female role in the play — that of the nanny — and it will be filled by an older actor in drag, a move that the company has used twice this season out of five plays.
With all those thoughts in mind, I reached out to the production’s director, Michael Galloway, with just a few questions. And since I would never miss an opportunity to interview a pirate, I tossed in a question for the cast, as well.
SP: Peter Pan has had its fair share of prequels recently — to you, what makes this particular story appealing to direct?
Galloway: I am a big Peter Pan fan so as soon as this show was available I jumped at the chance to direct it. It’s fun, very entertaining and it tells the story of how Peter, Hook and Neverland become who and what they are today.
SP: Act II opens with a vaudeville-style number styled as “The Mermaid Ballet”, but I notice there’s only one woman in your cast. Has that affected this number at all?
Galloway: NOPE!! And that is all I can say… Just make sure you don’t miss it!!
[Editor’s note: OK, so instead of women being cast as mermaids — which could lead to over-sexualization and objectification — we’ll be having more men in drag for humorous effect. Gotcha.]
SP: Speaking of cast, this one is filled with familiar names. Has this production pretty much driven itself?
Galloway: This is indeed an all-star cast, they have let me put my artistic stamp on it and I’m so grateful. Also there are four directors in the cast so it was interesting at first but they were all very good and it was cool getting input from them.
SP: Any favorite anecdotes from rehearsals?
Galloway: Oh with this cast it has been a lot of fun, I wish we would have filmed some of the rehearsals, they would make some of the best comedic out takes ever!! I do have to say, watching Grant Morenz makes my sides hurt. I really cannot pick one favorite.
SP: What else would you want to be sure to communicate to a potential audience?
Galloway: This is how Peter Pan becomes Peter Pan. It is for kids and adults (older kids).
SP: So pirates, what is your favorite part about playing a pirate?
Jim Dobbs (Smee): My favorite aspect of playing a pirate is being naughty on purpose and not never being repentant.
Jace Jamison (Grempkin/Fighting Prawn/Mack/Sanchez) Pirates have always been the single most interesting kind of people to me from history. I love being the the helmsman.
Twin City Squared’s Peter and the Starcatcher will be staged at Parkland Theatre’s Harold and Jean Miner Theatre and runs September 8th through 18th, at 7 p.m. Sundays are matinee-only performances at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 each with student/senior tickets priced at $12, with reserved seating available for purchase online.