- Last Updated: 3:19 PM, April 16, 2012
- Posted: 10:51 PM, April 15, 2012
PETER AND THE STARCATCHER
Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 W. 47th St.; 800-745-3000.
You can do a play about Peter Pan and his gang with top hats, wire-assisted flying and sets that dutifully evoke a 19th-century British home or a tropical island.
Or you can do it with jokes about Ayn Rand and Philip Glass, rubber gloves subbing for birds and an ensemble doubling as the set.
The new comic fantasy “Peter and the Starcatcher” picked option No. 2.
The show is briskly and inventively directed by Alex Timbers (“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson”) and Roger Rees. “Use your thoughts to hoist the sails and deck the ships,” a character shouts at the start. The cast gamely obliges, while the audience puts its imagination to work.
But this wouldn’t be enough for Broadway without the tour-de-force performance by Christian Borle (“Legally Blonde,” TV’s “Smash”) as a certain pirate.
He’s not named Captain Hook, mind you, but Black Stache — and he still has both hands. That’s because “Peter and the Starcatcher,” based on a young-adult novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, is a prequel to J.M. Barrie’s famous story.
So we learn how Stache — sporting a huge Groucho Marx-like smudge under his nose — lost a paw, and how a nameless orphan gained an identity.
That young boy is played like the mopey, sensitive leader of an indie-rock band by Adam Chanler-Berat (“Next to Normal”), and the Starcatcher of the title is Molly (Celia Keenan-Bolger), a serious, spunky girl who’s very pleased with herself. With good reason: She’s the only character with both brains and guts, and she knows how to handle “starstuff,” a mysterious dust with the power to change people.
Adapted for the stage by Rick Elice (“Jersey Boys”), the play blends an old-fashioned music-hall sensibility straight from the 1885 date line with an avalanche of jokes.
Fart and vomit gags aside, this isn’t a show for young children. It takes an adult sensibility to appreciate lines like Stache finding Peter’s new name as “evocative as a madeleine in a Proust novel,” or an orphan’s reaction to a wormy meal: “Is there a vegetarian alternative?”
And it all happens at breakneck speed.
There’s a lot of frantic business about two warring ships, switched trunks, an island inhabited by a tribe called the Mollusks — frankly, it’s hard to follow. The show feels as if it’s frantically running inside a hamster wheel, and the only breather comes at the end, when Peter and Molly exchange a sad goodbye.
They may be the heroes of the title, but the true treasure of “Peter and the Starcatcher” is its villain.
Borle chomps what little scenery there is with contagious delight. Swishing and jumping about, winking at himself and the audience, his vaudevillian pirate is a shameless masterpiece. Is it so wrong to pine for the bad guy?