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The Star is shining bright above the Julia Morgan stage this fall, as The Berkeley Playhouse opens their 9th season with the stunning PETER AND THE STARCATCHER. Now on stage through Oct 16th, this Tony Award-winning play that explores Pan before he met the Darling family and Captain Hook. Based on the best selling 2006 novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, and this stage adaptation by Rick Elice (Jersey Boys) and music by Wayne Barker. The music-infused creative story features an ensemble of talent with excitement and storytelling brilliance. BPH Founding Artistic Director Elizabeth McKoy feels like she is seeing the future of storytelling and theatre “I knew we had to produce it at Berkeley Playhouse,- I am thrilled to be opening up our season with one of the great new plays of the decade." Artistic Director Kimberly Dooley, says "The thrilling creativity of this ensemble as they bring this story to life is truly inspiring.” This PETER AND THE STARCATCHER is exuberantly superb and so welcomed to this Bay Area stage.

A marvelous prequel to “Peter Pan,” this journey back to Neverland is a fantasia brimming with wit and craft. Directed by Michael Socrates Moran, co-artistic director of Ubuntu Theater Project, this production includes some of the best talent from Bay Area stages. There is no denying the energy of this journey to Neverland may be the best one yet. Moran enlists a cast of Berkeley Playhouse favorites including Kevin Singer as Peter and the foolproof favorite Joel Roster as Black Stache; their sharp timing is irresistible. This is a refreshing brand new look of storytelling, one that relies on inventive stagecraft and keen performances. A brilliant cast of 12 cover nearly 100 roles; they rely on ropes, ladders and other props assembled by prop wizard Simon Trumble, and Stewart Lyle’s set pieces to summon settings ranging from pirate galleys to tropical islands. Eight years after its debut at the La Jolla Playhouse in California, "Peter and the Starcatcher" still feels like a fresh and unparalleled foray into an entirely new and foreign brand of long awaited biting, fast paced in your face storytelling.

In sketching out a new view of Peter and his adventure, Elice remains true to the source material and keeps the show grounded in a familiar modern myth. This mix of old and new is clever, but Director Moran finds an authentic balance and pops the script for all of its innovative power, staying true to the wonderful stagecraft and movement that make this production feel so fresh and enthusiastic. The company defines Barrie's narrative fantasyland and much more as we watch this romp we can’t help but get a grand feel for the energy and charm from this new style of storytelling.

The show starts focused on a group of English orphans bound on a ship called the Neverland for a life of doom heading for Rangoon. The group includes an unnamed teen who has never had a real family and who harbors a mistrust for adults. The Boy and his gang, a group of misguided Boys, are the first of many characters who start to feel familiar, including Black Stache a pirate captain with a comical commitment to villainy, his servant Smee (Cecily Schmidt), and Molly Aster (Brittney Monroe), a young girl who is a connection to the Darling kids, Wendy, Michael and John. Monroe brings that young 13 year old hero girl a charming class as a starcatcher. Molly who just realized that the boys might never catch up with her maturity level and love is a distant story in another script.

As the Neverland sails for Rangoon, Black Stache and his crew of pirates seek to overtake the vessel and steal its cargo, eyeing a trunk carrying a load of magical star dust. Stormy seas wreck the vessel and leave the heroes and villains on a tropical island, where the lanky boy takes the name of Peter Pan and kicks off a riff with Black Stache that will become iconic. Singer and Roster make the perfect hero and arch villain, and the cast supports the energy of booming the story and the love for their Queen Victoria.

Scenic designer Lyle and lighting designer Johnson use subtle tricks to turn the Julia Morgan Stage into lagoons, ship dungeons and captain's galleys, plants caves, and ladders of mountains. Lyle’s horde of a set is cluttered like a backstage mess, with piles of chairs, racks of costumes that adds to the rich look of the adventure on stage. The band, a two-piece ensemble, helmed by music director Michael Patrick Wiles and Lily Kaye Sevier on drums, relies on a simple score that creates pirate shanties, vaudevillian choruses and a host of sound effects. The success of the show relies on a cast that must take up multiple roles, and the ensemble here meets that challenge.

The adorable Singer is properly giddy and adventurous as the boy who holds no real name at the beginning of the show. Roster is delightful as Black Stache, and Cecily Schmidt pops with his accustomed gusto as Smee. As Molly, Monroe, offers a sweet portrait of a strong, and determined character, while sub-texting the Wendy character to come later in Pan's timeline. The powerful Matt Standley is Lord Aster, Molly's father, and the versatile delightful J Jah as Mrs. Bumbrake, Molly's nanny, gives life to a few new characters. A humours highlight is warm Kevin Rebultan as a friendly food hound Ted, who opens the evening eating a wonderful sub sandwich through most of the first act.

The talented Jah’s simple frocks give him that classic drag queen charm are designed by costumer Kat Pruyn who also meets the needs of Stache prelude to Captain Hooks look. The creative Lexie Lazear was on hand to bring the ideal wigs to the pirates look and to the wild frenzy of the lost boys. Simon Trumble scored some gem props for this two and half hour chase, that included some swords, guns, and a stage full of wonderful chests of treasures for the cast to work with. The fight and tumble scenes directed by Dave Maier are a highlight and kept the sold out opening night audience cheering.

These lead performances are backed with an exhausting performance by the entire ensemble, who stand in as pirates, story tellers and angry natives, all in the space of a few scenes that expand into the audience and at times to the lobby. The talented ensemble cast also include Francisco Arcila, Michael Birr, Scott Dilorenzo, Justin Howard, Aubri Kahalekulu, and Cecily Schmidt. The company breaks that golden rule and busts the curtain line by roaming the house and lobby before show time to greet the incoming audience. Some in character and some we are not sure, but wonder if we are underdressed for this show. The endearing cast offers a frenetic, frenzied pace, and while some of the gags miss among all the chaos, they largely succeed in bringing Elice's vision to stage and bring a new exciting look to American theatre.

That vision is all about blending an iconic children's story with a new approach to stagecraft and storytelling. We will never grow up as Peter concludes and Wendy is set to understand that she believes. The BPH Stage succeeds in striking a blessed balance, and the result is a treat for fans of the Peter Pan and a new and exciting view of theatre. PETER AND THE STARCATCHER is a swashbuckling, imaginative, adventure that proves we can believe in the magic of theatre. The Berkeley Playhouse has an excellent season in the wings, next up is BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and in spring 2017 will bring the East Bay Area premiere of BILLY ELLIOT. But in the meantime it is a must that you join this cast of STARCATCHERS and get your wings.

The Berkeley Playhouse Presents


By Rick Elice, based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

Music by Wayne Barker

Directed by Michael Socrates Moran,

Music Director Michael Patrick Wiles

Through Oct. 16

Julia Morgan Theater, 2640 College Ave., Berkeley

Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, one intermission

Tickets: $22-$40; 510-845-8542,

Photo's by Ben Krantz Studio.

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