Fun For More than Just Children

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Peter and the Starcatcher is far more fun than this knowingly clever mash-up of children's theater and English pratfall should have been. Carefully adapted from the Dave Barry- and Ridley Pearson-penned children's novel, Peter and the Starcatchers, by Rick Elice and directed with aplomb by the team of Roger Rees and Alex Timbers, Peter may have lost a consonant on its way to the Broadway stage via stints in La Jolla and New York Theater Workshop, but it has gained a major asset in the form of one of its cast members: a very winning Christian Borle. Borle is Black Stache, the prototype for the pirate who will become Captain Hook (Peter is largely an origin story for Peter Pan, one that stands on its own). Though the show presents a tight ensemble of talented actors working together, the actor gives a standout turn. His whirling dervish of a performance, which is Tony-nominated and won a Lortel Award last year, fuses nutty, alliterative dialogue ("Abandon spleen!" he shouts as his ship, the Neverland, begins to sink) with slapstick comedy in a marvelously disciplined way that would not be unfairly labeled as balletic. In the same way it takes an outstanding actor to play someone performing poorly (see: Tracie Bennett), so too does it take a virtuoso in complete control of movement and delivery too look so loose and loopy. It also helps cut down on what could have been an overwhelmingly nuttiness in Peter. The show traffics in a whimsy that could have been suffocating were it not so measured. Adam Chanler-Berat plays a nameless orphan with a small gang of followers on a ship beset by savages, a naval battle and a couple of trunks that may or may not contain a treasure-like substance called starstuff. Of course, no explosions or actual treasure is actually witnessed. That we see far less than we actually envision is a testament to the stagecraft of Rees' and Timbers' imaginative team, which includes Jeff Croiter's evocative lighting design and Donyale Werle's resourceful set design. Peter's merry cast, including Teddy Bergman, Kevin Del Aguila, Carson Elrod and David Rossmer, play their characters to the hilt with an unwavering energy and dedication, as does Chanler-Berat. But Peter really remains a showpiece for Borle; if there is any other performer who comes close to bathing in starstuff, it's Celia Keenan-Bolger in the role of Molly, a Wendy Darling forebear. Keenan-Bolger, best known for work in musicals like The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and the recent City Center Encores! production of Merrily We Roll Along, is an actress who knows no limits. She's equally at home in a dramatic work (Bachelorette, A Small Fire), and Peter provides this sterling talent with another opportunity to bring a fun but feisty female role to life. Cunningly crafted and passionately staged, Peter reaches out to the child in all of us. Peter and the Starcatcher Open run. Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 W. 47th St., $59-$161.

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