You may not think you’d be interested in a show that details the back story of Peter Pan, Captain Hook and the Lost Boys. But if you appreciate clever theater craft and really fine acting, you should consider catching “Peter and the Starcatcher” at the Manatee Performing Arts Center.
Rick Elice’s 2009 play (it has a couple songs, but it’s not a musical) is based on a juvenile novel called “Peter and the Starcatchers” by former newspaper columnist Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. The book was a best-seller, and the play was a hit Off-Broadway and then on Broadway, and it was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play in 2013.
The script is decent, although sometimes it’s hard to follow. Eleven actors, adults and youngsters, play all the characters in a complicated story about a group of orphans onboard a ship. There are a couple of identical trunks, one full of sand and the other full of magical material that can do just about anything; and of course they’re constantly interchanged. There are pirates and a crocodile and a young woman who becomes a mother figure for the orphans.
If you know the Peter Pan story, you can probably see that all the elements are in place. The source novel pieces them together inventively, in much the same way that “Wicked” forms a prequel to “The Wizard of Oz” with alternative explanations of the narrative and characters. Elice, who’s best known for writing the book for “Jersey Boys,” injects a healthy dose of theater magic with his playful structure.
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But it’s not the script that will appeal to people who see this production.
The entire Manatee Players cast, from the seasoned adult professionals to the youngest child, is magnetic. Even the people in the smallest roles are fun to watch and (within the limits of the fanciful story and intentionally semi-campy direction by Cory Boyas) believable.
Cory Woomert plays the evil but feckless pirate who’s called Black Stache, and every moment he’s on stage is a delight. Melanie Bierweiler, who was Beauty in Manatee Players’ “Beauty and the Beast,” is charming as Molly, the one female character. (The action of the play happens long before Wendy is born.) And Alexander Zickafoose is wide-eyed and energetic as the nameless orphan who later takes the name Peter.
None of the roles are really small, but among the supporting cast Eldred Brown, Noah Roderiques and Judah Woomert (Cory’s son) are especially charismatic. But really, there’s not a single performance that isn’t exceptional.
Ralph Nurmela’s impressionistic set and Patrick Bedell’s lighting design are clever and evocative, and Georgina Willmott’s rag-tag costumes are a lot of fun.
But, especially at the beginning, the story is hard to follow, partly because of the structure and partly because it’s a little hard to hear the actors at times. There’s a small band just slightly off stage, and on opening night they often drowned out the actors. The band plays music and also provides abstract sound effects throughout. It’s a lot of fun, but in the intimate Bradenton Kiwanis Theater, the band is simply too loud a lot of the time. They’re right next to the audience, on the right side as you’re facing the stage, so you’ll probably hear the actors better if you sit on the left.
Details: Through April 23, Bradenton Kiwanis Theater at the Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave. W., Bradenton. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. $27-$37. 941-748-5875, manateeperformingartscenter.com.