REVIEW: Pan of action

By Allan I. Ross
\"Peter and the Starcatcher\" is a slapstick prequel to \"Peter Pan,\" complete with a school of not-quite alluring mermaids. Courtesy photo .

‘Peter and the Starcatcher’ hooks audiences with imagination, perpetual motion

Thursday, Jan. 23 — You know that feeling you get when you’re running down a hill and gravity starts to take over and you’re afraid you’re going to fall because you’re going too fast but it’s so much fun that you just keep going and your feet are scrambling faster and faster and faster to keep you upright and then you start to get scared that you’re going to have a massive wipeout but the sensation of speed is too thrilling to stop and adrenaline takes over and your eyes start watering from the wind and your heart starts pounding from the fear and then all of a sudden you feel like — no, suddenly you are — honest-to-goodness flying?

“Peter and the Starcatcher” is kind of like that. The not-quite-musical, slightly-smarter-than-your-average-kids-show plays through Sunday at the Wharton Center. And man, what a thrill ride.

“Peter” is based on the lighthearted novel co-authored by humorist Dave Barry that serves as a prequel to J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan” novels. The play works on the same level as a Looney Tunes short or the “The Princess Bride”: The kids will dig the madcap zaniness of the nonstop action and the colorful characters; adults will appreciate the double entrendres as well as some surprisingly poignant moments.

"It's supposed to hurt,” one character, says during a tender farewell. “That's how you know it meant something.” Wow.

Act I is propelled at a breakneck speed featuring full-throttle kinetic energy and rapid-fire dialogue that speeds by so fast you can barely keep up, but you have no choice. Something something two ships commandeered by competing pirate crews. Something something magical stardust, shipwreck, island, mermaids, Anglo-hating natives. Just hang on for the ride — it’s worth every second.

The show utilizes the novel concept of using everyday items instead of realistic props, giving the show a backyard-theater feel. A plunger becomes a sword; a yellow rubber kitchen glove is a bird; a length for rope transforms from a bunk to a mirror to the roiling ocean. Set piece changes are minimal in Act II and nonexistent in Act I. The action slows down a bit in Act II (thank God), allowing the characters to bounce off each other and not necessarily being pushed by the plot.

Solid performances abound, but the standout actor was definitely John Sanders as the flamboyant villain Black Stache. Imagine John Cleese and Jim Carrey spun into a scenery-devouring pirate captain extraordinaire. This is a Peter Pan prequel, so you kind of know where his character is going, but man, when “it” happens, it’s a doozy … certainly the most audience-pleasing moment of the theater season so far. And there are only three words that will be on your lips after the show.

Oh. My. God.

“Peter and the Starcatcher”

Through Sunday, Jan. 26

7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday; 1 p.m. & 6:30 p.m. Sunday

Wharton Center
750 E. Shaw Lane, East Lansing


(800) WHARTON,