The play “Peter & the Starcatcher” was adapted from a novel of a slightly different name — “Peter & the Starcatchers,” a 2004 bestseller — and its literary origin shows, with an abundance of twists and turns that may be delicious in print but are a bit hard to follow on the stage. Or, at least, they are in the current production of the play at the Growing Stage in Netcong.
“Peter and the Starcatcher” — which was adapted from the novel by Rick Elice and won five Tonys after opening on Broadway in 2012 — is a prequel to the Peter Pan story, with the nameless orphan who will become him (played here by Davis Lemley) more sullen and withdrawn than the character we previously knew; and the villainous Capt. Hook still possessing his hand (at the start of the play, at least) and known as Black Stache (Josh Carpenter). Wendy has not been born yet; Tinker Bell doesn’t make an appearance until the very end.
The best thing about this production is two vastly appealing performances: By Carpenter, who goes way over-the-top in a very entertaining way as the silly, snarling, outrageously evil Black Stache; and by Nikki Miller as the pure-hearted but also smart and assertive Molly, who is really more of the central character of the play than the boy who will become Peter.
There are lots of other characters in the play, too, and the 13 actors sometimes rushed through their lines or didn’t enunciate them clearly enough. There was also some music (though “Peter & the Starcatcher is not a musical, per se), with the piano sometimes drowning out the singing.
The dialogue is peppered with modern pop culture references — to the Kelis song “Milkshake,” for instance, and Batman, and Siskel & Ebert. The play’s age recommendation is “7 years old through adult,” but I doubt many kids or teens in the audience could make sense of the phrase, “as elusive as the melody in a Philip Glass opera.”
Director Stephen L. Fredericks gets suitably spirited performances from most of the cast members. Perry Arthur Kroeger’s sets and Lori B. Lawrence’s costumes range from drab to vibrantly colorful, depending on the scene’s context. The play has some puppeteering, and there are lots of laughs along the way.
I just think it would have benefited from more focused, deliberate storytelling.
“Peter & the Starcatcher” kicks off the 201-17 season of the Growing Stage, which is the only children’s theater company in New Jersey that owns its own theater (the Palace, originally built in 1919). Other offering will include “A Christmas Carol: The Musical,” Nov. 18-Dec. 18; the world premiere of “The Box of Stories,” Feb. 10-19; “The Neverending Story (Atreyu and the Great Quest),” March 10-April 2; and “Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat,” May 5-21.
“Peter & the Starcatcher” runs through Oct. 23; visit growingstage.com.
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