Peter and the Starcatcher, a prequel to Peter Pan, made a splash off – and then on – Broadway earlier this decade and was highly regarded when it toured; unfortunately, I missed the New York City and touring productions, and as a fan of the Dave Barry/Ridley Pearson book upon which it was based, have been looking forward to seeing it for some time. I wasn’t sure what to expect, going into Albany Civic’s production – but am happy to tell you I left having laughed so hard I cried.
Three orphan boys (Steve Maggio, David Quinones and Jacob Luria) are put upon a ship, setting sail to an uncertain future; once on board, they meet Molly (Aeshly Grace) who is guarding a trunk with mysterious contents. The evil Black Stache (Evan Jones) and his crew take over another ship and go after Molly’s ship in an attempt to get the trunk; Molly and one of the boys, orphaned so long he has never been given a name, team up to save the trunk and end up on Mollusk Island, which is filled with murderous inhabitants, a man-eating crocodile, and mermaids, with the pirates in hot pursuit.
Director Brian Sheldon had a momentous task before him in bringing the show to life; the production is very fast-paced, it has a fairly large cast (on Albany Civic’s somewhat small stage), there’s singing, dancing, music, actors playing multiple roles, full-cast costume changes, complete with wigs, set pieces that rotate and props that have to be hauled on and off quickly. It isn’t flawless, but it’s close – and the flaws are almost part of the charm. The set itself (designed by Adam Coons, who also plays the pirate Smee) is rustic, imparting an air of a well-worn ship, and the actors are mainly portraying pirates and sailors – so a wig or costume slip, a slight timing error, or a choreography misstep is more endearing than annoying. The actors are having the time of their lives playing up there, and their joy is passed along to the audience.
There is some serious talent on stage in this production, and the group as a whole has the comedic timing down to a science. Jones, as Black Stache, was the standout – his asides and mugs to the audience are comedy gold. His scenes with Coons are a delight – the two of them work beautifully together. Quinones, as Ted, the perpetually hungry orphan, had the audience rolling with his love/hate relationship with a pineapple, and Kevin X. McNamara, as Molly’s caretaker Mrs. Bumbrake, has his typical strong stage presence and plays a woman without going for the cheap laughs a gender-swap usually entails.
There are a million ways this show could go wrong, yet Sheldon has brought together just the right people, both onstage and off, and directed a piece that’s comedic genius. Kudos to him for taking on something this difficult and nailing it and to Albany Civic Theater for kicking off their season with a certified hit.
“Peter and the Starcatcher,” Albany Civic Theater, 235 Second Ave., Albany, through September 24, $18-$10, Run time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with a 15-minute intermission, (518) 462-1297, www.albanycivictheater.org