How did Peter Pan get to be Peter Pan?
That, in a nutshell, is the story of the innovative “Peter and the Starcatcher,” a play with music that was a big hit in New York a few years ago. Now the “Peter Pan” prequel is a holiday offering from StageWorks Fresno, which is staging the fast-paced, cleverly conceived production at the Fresno Art Museum. Here are five things to know about the show.
1. It’s eagerly anticipated. Local theaters have been waiting for the rights to do this acclaimed production, which moved from off Broadway to a Broadway run in 2012. (Even after it closed on Broadway in 2013, it still had some steam, moving back to off Broadway for another year.) StageWorks Fresno was able to snag the chance to do it first in the central San Joaquin Valley. (Good Company Players won’t be far behind with its own production opening March 16.)
Why the hoopla? Mostly because of the innovative staging, which relies upon a cast of 12 actors to portray dozens of characters, sometimes shifting from one to another in a matter of seconds. (And a rave review in the New York Times didn’t hurt.) Plus, the multiple settings are created in nifty, low-tech ways that test the creativity of the director and the imagination of the audience. “It’s a different kind of show,” says StageWorks director Joel C. Abels.
2. It helps to know a little “Peter Pan” before going in. Abels likens it to knowing the basic story of “The Wizard of Oz” before seeing “Wicked.” (Like “Wicked,” “Starcatcher” is based on a book, this on a novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, which was then adapted for the stage by Rick Elice.) There are obvious connections between “Starcatcher” and the more famous “Peter Pan,” though the character names are a little different. For example: two we get to know are Boy, an unnamed orphan (played by Rhys Avants, a Clovis North High School student) and Molly (Kenzie Stafford, a Buchanan High School student). Remind you a lot of Peter and Wendy? You’re thinking along the right track.
In the same vein, we also meet a dastardly pirate named Black Stache (Terry Lewis) and his loyal sidekick, Smee (Christy Hathaway). And one of the ships in the play is named The Neverland. Just keep your brain’s “Peter Pan” synapses humming in the background, and you’ll be fine.
And don’t worry if you don’t know what a “Starcatcher” is. You will by the end of the show. We’d tell you, but then we’d ruin the surprise.
3. Expect an immersive and creative experience. The Bonner Auditorium at the art museum is small, and Abels and assistant director Miguel Gastelum are taking advantage of that to make the audience members feel as if they’re part of the action. An example: At one point in the show, some of the cast members become natives hiding in a jungle. They encircle the audience and use umbrellas to suggest trees, thus “hiding” behind them. “In that way the audience becomes immersed in this jungle of sorts,” Abels says.
Picking up on the umbrella theme, keep an eye out for the ways that everyday objects – all found on the set – work their way into the action as props, costumes and other ways to advance the storyline.
4. It’s a family-friendly show, but it might go over the heads of very young children. Abels suggests that kids 6 and older will get thoroughly caught up in the action.
5. Let your imagination guide you. “Peter and the Starcatcher” has a bunch of settings, including the decks and holds of two Victorian-era sailing ships, the open ocean and an entire island. It’s up to the actors and minimalist staging to make those locations come to life. The actors play sailors, pirates, mollusks and dozens of other characters, sometimes just by switching a costume accessory or two.
And never underestimate the way just a plain piece of rope, say, can be made into something just as meaningful as a huge piece of scenery.
“My advice is to check reality at the door,” Abels says. “Go with the visual that comes to you. Hopefully through our storytelling, we’ll be doing our job in terms of getting the story across. Just let loose and let your imagination play.”
Peter and the Starcatcher
- Opens 7:30 p.m. Friday. Runs through Dec. 18.
- www.stageworksfresno.com, 559-289-6622.
- $25, $22 students and seniors