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“Peter and the Starcatcher” Raises Whimsy to an Art Form on March 10-15 at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium

Bryan Welnicki plays Peter Pan, and Aisling Halpin plays Molly the Starcatcher (photo by Scott Suchman)

Bryan Welnicki plays Peter Pan, and Aisling Halpin plays Molly the Starcatcher (photo by Scott Suchman)

Scottish novelist and playwright J. M. Barrie introduced Peter Pan, that incorrigible scamp, friend to fairies and Neverland’s Native American tribe, and scourge of pirates everywhere, in chapters 13–18 of his 1902 novel The Little White Bird and burnished his reputation as a mischief maker in his 1904 stage play, Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. Peter’s pranks are legendary, but his origins remained sketchy for 102 years, until syndicated newspaper humor columnist and author Dave Barry and suspense novelist Ridley Pearson teamed up in 2006 to publish Peter and the Starcatchers.

Tony Award nominee Rick Elice (The Addams Family, Jersey Boys) transformed Barry and Pearson’s best-selling children’s novel into wonderfully witty and whimsical prequel to Barrie’s books. Peter and the Starcatcher, a multiple Tony Award®-winning 2012 Broadway play with music by Wayne Barker (Dame Edna: Back with a Vengeance) and book and lyrics by Elice, is a glorious, brilliantly conceived, and altogether delightful theatrical romp through the untold chapters of Peter Pan’s early life. Broadway Series South and North Carolina Theatre, which brought Phoenix Entertainment’s touring production of this splendid show to Raleigh Memorial Auditorium for eight performances on March 10-15, have provided their patrons with a surefire cure for the end-of-winter blahs.

Bryan Welnicki is a delight as the initially nameless 13-year-old orphan Boy, whom London’s St. Norbert’s Orphanage for Lost Boys sells to the scurvy Bill Slank (Gabe Martinez), the treacherous slave-driving captain of the slow-as-molasses ship, the Neverland, who schemes to hijack a consignment from Queen Victoria bound for the mythical kingdom of Rundoon. Welnicki’s Boy, who is ultimately rechristened Peter, is an utterly charming rogue, with touseled hair; and Martinez’s Slank is the epitome of the sinister villains of early 20th century melodramas. Peter is the poster boy for Boys Who Won’t Grow Up; Slank has a mug tailor-made for a wanted poster.

Aisling Halpin is a pip as Molly Aster, the precocious 13-year-old daughter of Lord Leonard Astor (Andy Ingalls), who is a spy for Queen Victoria and a Starcatcher sworn to protect the super-secret, magical “starstuff” — which can turn fish into mermaids — which the queen has entrusted to him to take Rundoon for disposal.

"Peter and the Starcatcher" stars (from left) Gabe Martinez as the Neverland's odious captain Bill Slank, Bryan Welnicki as Peter, Joe Beuerlein as Peter's nemesis Black Stache, and Shaun Rice as the flatulent sailor Alf (photo by Scott Suchman)

“Peter and the Starcatcher” stars (from left) Gabe Martinez as the Neverland’s odious captain Bill Slank, Bryan Welnicki as Peter, Joe Beuerlein as Peter’s nemesis Black Stache, and Shaun Rice as the flatulent sailor Alf (photo by Scott Suchman)

While Aisling Halpin is intrepidly cavorting around the ship, pursuing Peter and the other Lost Boys and pursued by her nanny, Mrs. Bumbrake (the hilarious Tim Hackney exploring his feminine side for bellylaughs), the plot thickens. A gang of pirates, led by the swashbuckling Black Stache (Joe Beuerlein) and his dim-bulb first mate Smee (Andrew Sklar), take over the H.M.S. Wasp, captained by sone-to-be legendary South Pole explorer Robert Falcon Scott (Mickey Rafalsky); and they take Scott and his prize passenger, Lord Aster, prisoner. Much hijinks ensure, aboard the Neverland and the Wasp, before a hurricane shipwrecks both vessels and maroons the survivors on an inhospitable island, inhabited by Mermaids; a hostile tribe of Mollusks, led by the bloodthirsty Fighting Prawn (Thomas DeMarcus); and an enormous crocodile named Mr. Grin.

Peter and the Starcatcher is great fun for children of all ages above, say, the age of 10. Bryan Welnicki and Aisling Halpin make a plucky pair as Peter and Molly, and Joe Beuerlein strikes ridiculous poses and mangles the Queen’s English as a regular Mr. Malaprop, circa 1885, when — as these comical characters repeat “the British empire is at its colonial zenith.” Heightening the hilarity are the amusing antics of Shaun Rice as Mrs. Bumbrake’s flatulent beau the old salt Alf and James Crichton and Nick Lehan as Prentiss and Ted, the two other Lost Boys who share this improbable adventure on the high seas.

Also moving this offbeat entertainment to the top of Triangle theatergoers’ must-see lists are Shawn Pennington and Patrick McCollume’s uproarious recreation of the original direction of Roger Rees and Alex Timbers and the ingenious “movement” created for the Broadway cast by Steven Hoggett. An imaginative minimalist scenic design by Donyale Werle and the flamboyant 19th century threads devised for the 12-member cast by Paloma Young — both of which won 2012 Tonys — also help make attending this high-octane production truly a night (or an afternoon) to remember. Don’t miss it.

Peter (Bryan Welnicki, center) and the Orphan Boys get into many a pickle (photo by Scott Suchman)

Peter (Bryan Welnicki, center) and the Orphan Boys get into many a pickle (photo by Scott Suchman)

SECOND OPINION: March 12th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=7313; March 11th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh review by Jeffrey Karasarides: http://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Reviews-PETER-THE-STARCATCHER-National-Tour-at-North-Carolina-Theatre-20150311; March 11th Durham, NC Indy Week review by Zack Smith: http://www.indyweek.com/arts/archives/2015/03/11/live-review-peter-and-the-starcatcher-breathes-irreverent-life-into-a-story-told-many-times; March 11th Raleigh, NC WNCN interview Bryan Welnicki and Aisling Halpin, conducted by Valonda Calloway and Alex Butler for “My Carolina Today”: http://www.wncn.com/story/28393470/peter-and-the-starcatcher; and March 6th Raleigh, NC News & Observer mini-preview by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article12845300.html. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the March 10th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2015/03/peter-and-the-starcatcher-brilliantly-imagines-the-backstory-of-the-boy-who-wouldnt-grow-up/).

Broadway Series South and North Carolina Theatre present PETER AND THE STARCATCHER at 7:30 p.m. March 13 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. March 14 and 15 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.

TICKETS: $37.32-$111.24 (including fees).

BOX OFFICE:

Duke Energy Center Box Office: 919-996-8700 or info@dukeenergycenterraleigh.com (information only).

Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115203/1690339.

GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-996-8707, group@raleighconvention.com, or http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/broadway-series-south/group-sales.

SHOW: http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/event/peter-and-the-starcatcher-4754, http://nctheatre.com/shows/peter-and-the-starcatcher, and https://www.facebook.com/events/1444859062467685/.

VIDEO PREVIEW: http://peterandthestarcatcher.com/press-and-media/video/.

TOUR CAST & CREATIVE TEAM: http://peterandthestarcatcher.com/tour/tour-cast-creative/.

TOUR EDUCATOR’S GUIDE: http://s466635199.onlinehome.us/patsc/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/PATSC_Educator%27s_Guide.pdf.

PRESENTERS:

Broadway Series South: http://www.progressenergycenter.com/broadway-series-south, https://www.facebook.com/broadwayseriessouthraleigh, and https://twitter.com/BroadwaySouth.

North Carolina Theatre: http://www.nctheatre.com/, https://www.facebook.com/nctheatre, https://twitter.com/nctheatre, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Carolina_Theatre, and http://www.youtube.com/user/nctheatre.

NCT BLOG (Stage Notes): http://www.nctheatre.com/stage-notes.

VENUE: http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/venue/memorial-auditorium.

DIRECTIONS: http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/directions.

PARKING: http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/parking.

NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 2 p.m. Saturday, March 14th, performance.

OTHER LINKS:

Peter and the Starcatcher (2009 La Jolla Playhouse, 2011 Off-Broadway, and 2012 Broadway play with music): http://peterandthestarcatcher.com/ (official website), http://www.phoenix-ent.com/productions/peter-and-the-starcatcher/ (Phoenix Entertainment), http://www.lortel.org/ (Internet Off-Broadway Database), http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?id=491596 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_and_the_Starcatcher_%28play%29 (Wikipedia).

Rick Elice (book): http://peterandthestarcatcher.com/tour/tour-cast-creative/ (tour bio), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=394783 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rick_Elice (Wikipedia).

Wayne Barker (music): http://peterandthestarcatcher.com/tour/tour-cast-creative/ (tour bio) and http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=391752 (Internet Broadway Database).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing robertm748@aol.com and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail robertm748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)

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Categorised in: A&E Theatre Reviews, Lead Story, Reviews