Stage Door’s ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’ shines with heartfelt magic

Credit: Casey Gardner Ford

Credit: Casey Gardner Ford

This story was originally published by ArtsATL.

As a play based on a novel that is based on another novel, “Peter and the Starcatcher” has a lot of story to tell. A whimsical prequel to J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan,” the play etches backstories for Barrie’s major characters, including the eponymous Peter, here envisioned as an ill-treated orphan with a deep distrust of grownups. Stage Door Theatre’s production of “Peter and the Starcatcher,” onstage through May 28 and directed by Lauren Morris, chases every word of that story with bold, bright gusto. It doesn’t catch them all, but the cast’s joyful pursuit makes the ride ever so worth it.

Officially, the play stars Peter, referred to as “Boy” or “No Name” for the first act, played here by Sully Brown; and the Starcatcher, Molly Aster (Alejandra Ruiz), a plucky daughter of an eccentric British adventurist. Brown and Ruiz are well-cast and delightfully fun to watch, romping across the set with childish enthusiasm without betraying their adult poise. But this is very much an ensemble play, with actors congregating like schools of fish to guide the story through dialogue, music and movement.

Credit: Casey Gardner Ford

Credit: Casey Gardner Ford

Morris’ production makes terrific use of its talented cast, including two stand-out youngsters: Austin Barocas is shamelessly hilarious as Ted, one of Peter’s fellow orphan boys, and Adrienne Ocfemia is wry and clever as the other, Prentiss. At times, the age difference between them and Brown felt wonky — I might have made more of the gag to adjust for the imbalance — but the trio found its footing soon enough, especially as Peter finds his name and begins to distinguish himself from his future Lost Boys.

Amongst the adults, Bridget McCarthy is resplendent as Black Stache, the early avatar of Captain Hook, swaggering and braggadocio-ing across the stage, often on the back (figuratively and literally) of Smee (Briallen Sanchez-Thurber), with the two finding many gags along the way. Ali Bhamani shines as Slank, crooked captain of The Neverland ship, an unctuous villain with a perfectly smooth snicker.

Charis Sellick is clipped and hilarious as Mrs. Bumbrake, Molly’s not-very-attentive nanny, and Bryan Montemayor won the audience over as Fighting Prawn the Mollusk, fierce resistor of the invading British who issues military commands as Italian pastas and had the entire audience howling.

Credit: Casey Gardner Ford

Credit: Casey Gardner Ford

Every cast member sparkles individually, and, while they come together admirably as an ensemble, they stumble over some of the rapid-fire dialogue, especially when delivered as a chorus. Articulation, alas, is somewhat sacrificed here on the altar of the British accent — that dash of authenticity is almost never perfectly executed on this side of the Atlantic. The choice makes sense given the play’s endless satire of all things English, but I’d have happily tossed a handful of the flimsier accents in exchange for tighter delivery.

Musically, the cast shines with radiance. Though not a traditional musical per se, “Peter and the Starcatcher” has a few big musical numbers and a smattering of interludes, which break up the dense dialogue and make plenty of room for fun. A few excellent voices — Brown, Sellick and Ocfemia especially — undergird what is generally a strong group of singers, while ebullient dance moves and zany costumes made the musical numbers some of the show’s best elements.

Kudos to music director Holt McCarley and sound designer Gamble, whose creative instrumentation was delicious. One percussive interlude, produced entirely by kitchen utensils — including a hand-mixer and a pair of metal grill tongs — might just be the best use of non-instruments as instruments I’ve ever seen onstage . . . and I’ve seen a lot of experimental theater.

Designer Gabby Stephenson’s colorful, maximalist set, which resembled a tree-house, was perfect for this production. Movable pallet pieces worked equally well as ship decking and island mountains, and the cast made the most of every ersatz ladder and rope.

My audience compatriot did have one complaint about the set, which was that she couldn’t play on it afterward. She is 6, and I can happily report that she loved every minute of it. “Peter and the Starcatcher” isn’t technically a children’s play, but it has enough dazzle to entertain most kids, especially older ones. The production is finely tuned to audience members of any age, with plenty of arch humor to keep adults giggling and lots of zany, prop-heavy gags for the younger ones.


“Peter and the Starcatcher”

Through May 28. $18.95-$38.95. Stage Door Theatre, 5339 Chamblee Dunwoody Road, Dunwoody.


Rachel Garbus is a writer, editor, and oral history maker in Atlanta. She’s a contributor at Atlanta magazine and the editor-in-chief of print for WUSSY Mag, which covers queer culture with a Southern lens. She performs improv and sketch comedy around town and has been known to pen the odd satire. She lives in North Druid Hills with her wife and her anxious dog.

Credit: ArtsATL

Credit: ArtsATL


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