Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Peter and the Starcatcher

Based on excellent word of mouth, last weekend I set aside one of my precious weekend-theater timeslots for Peter and the Starcatcher (or, as I think of it, Bloody Bloody Peter Pan) at the New York Theatre Workshop. It was what I imagine a crazy Hasty Pudding production is like, except without the charm and wit. I was not amused.

Peter displayed all the faults (distracting, inappropriate, juvenile humor) and none of the occasional brilliance of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (interesting if superficial commentary on timely issues; catchy songs). Justly or not I blame Alex Timbers, who shepherded BBAJ ill-advisedly all the way to Broadway (for all its faults, I think it could have been a long-running cult hit off-Broadway). I don't find Rick Elice’s script for Peter particularly compelling, but I definitely hate the way Timbers (I assume it’s his fault, based on its type of "humor") ruined the flow by punching up the story with lame jokes winked at the audience. Without that interference, this might have been a charming and age-appropriate prequel to Peter Pan, albeit one I wouldn't have bothered to see.

I had been told this was a musical, but it was somewhere between a musical and a play with music, and it would have benefitted from moving a significant distance in either direction. I don't remember any of the songs, and the lyrics were fairly lame, so it probably would have been better as a simple children's play. Overall, I thought the show was trying too hard to be clever (just like BBAJ), but I didn't think the theater in-jokes were funny enough to justify breaking out of the story. It was just a mess: both too childish and too meta, in ways that didn't mesh for me.

All the performers did an admirable job with a lackluster script, but for all their effort to sell it, the show never got off the ground. Adam Chanler-Berat (previously a high school stoner in Next to Normal) and Celia Keenan-Bolger (once a child competitor in 25th … Spelling Bee and, more recently, in an adult role in Bachelorette) made charming and fairly believable children. I've only seen Christian Borle in this and in the current revival of Angels in America, each role over-the-top in its own way, and he certainly threw himself into both characters.

I thought wistfully about skipping the second act, but I really don't do that. (If I can live through the zionist musical The Time of Mendel's Trouble--both a terrible musical and in no way convincing anyone to move to the Holy Land, so a failure all around--I can live through about anything someone throws on stage.) I'm glad I stayed because the musical number that opened act II was so crazy. It certainly didn't fit well with the rest of the show, and I don’t think it was a good number, but it was certainly the most entertaining stretch of the show by far. I don't even remember what the song was about, but the costuming was genius: mermaid outfits constructed out of kitchenware, with those metal strainers that spiral out like flower petals as bras. It was stunning.

The high point of the show was its staging. I don’t know if it was the work of the codirectors (the venerable Roger Rees, whom I expected more from, and Timbers), “movement” coordinator Steven Hoggett (American Idiot and Black Watch choreographer), set designer Donyale Werle, or someone else. But the use of the show’s lack of space was absolutely brilliant. At one point a length of rope was stretched across the stage and shimmied to make ocean waves, and at another it was held up to make a door frame. This allowed for quick “set changes” that kept the otherwise dragging show moving along. At another point, ten or so actors were lined up shoulder to shoulder as a hallway of doors that were opened and shut in rapid succession, with crazy scenes behind each. I think even if I had loved the rest of the show, this creative staging would have been my favorite aspect.

Overall, I felt I could have used that time seeing something I would have enjoyed much, much more. Luckily, the other shows I saw that weekend were much better (Molly Sweeney at the Irish Rep, and The Other Place with the excellent Laurie Metcalf at MCC Theater).

JUNE 2012 UPDATE: Lisa saw the Broadway transfer and really likes it. I get the impression that I'm about the only person who doesn't.

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