The audience at the Theater Project in Brunswick gave a well-deserved hand to the cast of the company’s latest production on opening night. But it wasn’t enough to replace the one that the play’s villainous Captain Stache lost on his way to becoming the infamous Captain Hook.

“Peter and the Starcatcher” presents a prequel to the story of Peter Pan, an old tale that became known the world over thanks to Disney. Based on the children’s novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, Rick Elice’s play, with music by Wayne Barker, calls for inspired players and an audience willing to open its imagination to a show that is both fantastical and funny.

Members of a large multi-generational cast, many in multiple roles, come and go from the stage, trading lines of dialogue and adding snippets of narration. They also occasionally break into wild and witty song and dance numbers. The story they tell and perform is that of a 19th-century British seagoing mission to deliver a chest full of a mysterious substance called starstuff to a distant land.

A trio of boy orphans and their ever-resourceful young aristocratic ally, Molly, center the story as pirates seek to steal the treasure and leave the foursome at the mercy of a wacky and dangerous tribe of island natives and their monster crocodile. One of the orphans overcomes his abusive upbringing and, with the help of his friends – plus a preening mermaid, a flighty fairy and a dip in some starstuff – is transformed into Peter Pan, a magical boy forever.

The humor ranges from jokes about flatulence to high literary references in this show that has fun with itself while offering a refracted sense of good old-fashioned adventure and touches of warmth.

The ensemble includes a winning mix of student actors and local professionals. Inua Saibou-Baldi, Gabe Tower and Lily Collier, as the orphans, allowed their characters to emerge as tastes of liberty and accompanying adult worries bring them into a new world of experience. Saibou-Baldi gave his Peter the sort of hard-won determination that will serve him well in adventures to come. Tower and Collier each took advantage of comic riffs on their new lives.

Anya Bachor, as Molly, conveyed the courage and foresight the others lack as her character approaches womanhood. Elizabeth Chasse-King, as her nanny, delivered some earthy laughs while being pursued by a rough-hewn sailor played by Corey King.

David Covell added a level of sarcastic style to his pirate Black Stache, though his softened delivery had some of his choice lines dropping short of audience members’ ears in the three-quarters-in-the-round theater. Still, when audible, his was a sophisticated comic turn.

Local theater veterans Megan Tripaldi and Josh Brassard each stood out, with Tripaldi threatening to steal some scenes opposite the antics of Covell. Brassard had his best moments as the native leader with a culinary twist to his thinking.

Emma Roth-Wells, Andrew Mass and Hollie Pryor also contributed in a show overflowing with entertaining turns. Asher Barreras (keyboard) and Kate Gray (violin) provided seamless accompaniment at the rear of the stage, and Gray also choreographed a hilarious mermaids dance that opened the second act.

Director Al Miller, with the help of imaginative technical direction and lighting design by JP Gagnon, scenic design by Christopher Price and costume design by Jen Roe, has established a world where growing up is always an adventure.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.


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