By PAM HARBAUGH
In the time of year that’s embued with magic and wonder, Orlando Shakespeare Theater chooses something unusual but nonetheless fitting — “Peter and the Starcatcher.”
As directed by Michael Carleton, this professional production is filled to the rafters with gobs of creativity. In fact, you won’t want to blink, nor breathe, for fear you might miss some of this exciting imagination.
The play is written by Rick Elice with music by Wayne Barker. It is based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. And of course, all that owes a great deal to J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan,” because this play, like “Wicked,” is the imagined prequel to an imaginary character — here, that is the boy who would not grow up and the cast of characters inhabiting Neverland.
The star here is imagination…sans hydraulics et al. You sail the seas, levitate, do battle, plunge into liquid stardust and fight a fierce crocodile — all with the help of a prop list that includes rope, toy boats, plastic yellow gloves, a bucket, a pineapple and a few other ordinary items.
Rising all these common elements into fantastical play is a most talented cast.
Katrina Michaels loads spunk, sweetness and a disarming genuineness to her role of Molly Aster, a young girl caught up in pirate intrigue and who helps keep a group of orphan boys alive. Setting off to sea, Molly’s father (an earnest and proper Paul Bernardo) instructs his housekeeper, Mrs. Bumbrake (a very VERY funny Larry Daggett) to be Molly’s guardian. They soon end up at sea, caught up on the the rolling action between two ships.
Perry Ojeda ramps up to delicious perfection his role of the pirate captain Black Stache, who has a healthy fear of crocodiles. (You know where that character is heading.) Stephen James Anthony brings a moody note to the nameless orphan boy who accepts the moniker of Peter, allowing him a vivid emotional arc.
There is not a weak link in the entire ensemble. They perform with such energy and verve that by the show’s end, the thrilled audience is close to exhaustion.
Attention must also be paid to the creative team, including choreographer Kim Ball and fight captain Kenny Babel. Eric T. Haugen’s lighting design and Bert Scott’s scenic design set the stage for the imagination to flow. Jack Smith’s costume design is..well…perfect while keeping in close concert with Mr. Haugen’s and Mr. Scott’s designs. Stage manager Stacy Renee Norwood keeps making it all look so doggoned smooth.
This is excellent theater. It does what theater is supposed to do. Yes, entertain — children will laugh at the broad humor, adults will giggle at the smarter stuff — but more importantly, it will ignite a spark leaving you caught up in theater’s real magic.
SIDE O’ GRITS: Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s “Peter and the Starcatcher” runs through Jan. 3 at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 E Rollins St, Orlando, FL. Tickets are $22 to $55. Call 407-447-1700 or visit OrlandoShakes.org.