Sunday, May 26, 2024

"Peter and the Starcatcher" by Duluth Playhouse at the NorShore Theatre

Duluth is my (and many Minnesotans') favorite spot for a Minne-cation. Not only is there that endlessly fascinating lake (which on this visit the winds churned up into wild waves), the best of Minnesota's 70+ State Parks, and tons of outdoor activities, food, and shopping, but it's also an artsy city, including a great theater scene. As soon as I bought my ticket to see the living legend that is Willie Nelson at Bayfront Festival Park, I checked out the theater schedule, and was thrilled to discover that I would be in Duluth for the opening of the charming play with music Peter and the Starcatcher by Duluth Playhouse (and also disappointed that I would be missing Zeitgeist Theater's POTUS, opening May 30 and running through June 8). This Peter features a talented 12-percon cast (including some familiar faces), playful and inventive storytelling, and a sweet story about home, family, and adventure; check it out if you're going to be in Duluth through June 2. And whenever you plan your North Shore adventure, see what's going on at the Playhouse or Zeitgeist, or better yet, plan a trip around it - like I may be during Duluth Playhouse's 110th season to see the gorgeous musical The Light in the Piazza, or Waitress - yet another musical that #DuluthTheater does before #TCTheater (see also Renegade Theater's lovely 2019 production of Fun Home, which is premiering in the Twin Cities at Theater Latte Da next season, and last summer's Kinky Boots at the Playhouse, with Mitchell Douglas reprising his role as Lola at Lyric Arts this summer).

Molly and the boy (Hope Nordquist and Jake Mathey)
(photo by Terry Cartie Norton)
The five-time Tony winning 2012 Broadway play Peter and the Starcatcher is based on the 2004 novel Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, a prequel to the Peter Pan story with which we're all familiar. Much of the story is explained to us in narration by the ensemble. The title character is an unnamed and unloved orphan who's sold into slavery along with two other boys. They're being transported on the ship Neverland, captained by Slank and his rough and rowdy crew. Also on board are 13-year-old Molly and her nurse, Mrs. Bumbrake. Molly's father, the well-to-do and important Lord Aster, has entrusted her to the captain while he travels on a more dangerous route aboard the Wasp, on a mission for the queen. He's transporting a trunk of the mysterious "starstuff" that unbeknownst to him has been swapped with a similar trunk of worthless sand by the devious Captain Slank. Aster's ship is overtaken by pirates, namely the dastardly Black Stache and his sidekick Smee, and much hijinks and hilarity ensue as the pirates try to get the treasure and Molly and the boys try to save it and her father. The action continues in the second act as they all land on a tropical island. It's a sweet and engaging story with a heroine and a hero to root for, clever puns and alliterations mixed with modern references, and a theme of home and friendship and belonging, as the unnamed boy becomes the legend that is Peter Pan.*

Justin Peck as Smee with the ensemble
(photo by Terry Cartie Norton)
Director Phillip Fazio leads the cast in this playful and inventive storytelling style, with most of the cast on stage for most of the show, sitting off to the side watching when not in the action. They've set the story in an attic, with the cast entering via a trap door in the floor, like children going to play in the attic and telling a story with and to friends. The cast dons costumes and accents as they portray various roles in the story and create the world in which it takes place, making a room out of rope, or signifying the rolling waves with movement. A wooden A-frame of an attic hangs over the set that's filled with boxes, crates, and other odds and ends, with stairs, ladders, and platforms creating multiple areas for scenes. Large tarps are tied to the ceiling, and lowered as needed for sails or curtains. It's a charming low-tech design, with an all-hands-on-deck atmosphere as the story unfolds (costume design by Peg Ferguson, set and lighting design by Jeff Brown, prop design by April Ellingsen).

Black Stache (Evan Kelly) and Smee (Justin Peck)
(photo by Terry Cartie Norton)
A familiar face in #TCTheater, Hope Nordquist is a delightful Molly, smart and spunky and strong. Jake Mathey believably transforms from the lonely and guarded orphan boy into the Peter Pan we know and love. Other highlights in this across-the-board strong ensemble include Evan Kelly as the deliciously evil Black Stache (spoiler alert: he becomes Captain Hook in a hilarious scene), Justin Peck as his sidekick Smee ("It'sme!"), Greyson Holste and SJ Olson as Peter's orphan friends (who also play instruments), and Alyson Enderle as Bumbrake, also serving as music coordinator, playing piano, and lending her lovely voice to the story. This isn't a musical, but there are a couple of songs (including a fun mermaid number that opens Act II), as well as underscoring and sound effects throughout the show, accomplished by the ensemble on piano, guitar, and various percussive instruments.

Moral of the story: Duluth has a lot to offer, not least of which is theater, performing arts, music, and visual arts. There's really no better way to vacation than to spend the day by the gorgeous and mesmerizing Lake Superior, eat some good food at a local restaurant, and see a show in the evening. Peter and the Starcatcher is a great choice - playing for one more weekend at the beautifully restored NorShore Theatre in downtown Duluth!

*Plot summary borrowed from what I've written about previous productions.