“Peter and the Starcatcher” Review

On Thursday, October 14, 2021, Studio VII opened up the new season with Rick Elice’s 2012 Tony Award winning play Peter and the Star Catcher which is based on a novel by the famous American satirist Dave Barry and not as famous American novelist Ridley Baker. There is even some original music in the play by Wayne Barker, but it is not a musical. It is a play with some music, especially a particularly funny opening to the second act. The play is the typical “Let’s make a prequel to a classic piece of fiction” that was prevalent in the early 21st century. In this case, the authors tried to justify how Peter Pan, Captain Hook, and Neverland entered into the world. I’m not sure what J. M. Barrie would have thought about the play, much less what he would have thought about Disney’s version of the play, nor the 1952 musical version, nor even the Stephen Spielberg sequel to the original play. But I do know one thing: the story of Peter Pan and its characters and places are well ensconced into our cultural mindset. I, also, know another thing: this play would have made the Marx Brothers very proud. The zaniness and wonderful word play is spectacular, and the humor ranged from high brow (Ayn Rand reference) to low brow (running flatulence joke). Most importantly, from the minute the curtain opened, I could not remove the gigantic grin on my face. The jokes are in full abundance in this show


I almost did go to the performance tonight. The pandemic may have broken me, the winter freeze definitely did. I reasoned to myself that Chocs had left, so the theatre troupe was going to go in a different direction, that this was a good time to stop reviewing plays because it was a new lead director and not get into their way. I am getting old. I am staring fifty in the face and find that I am getting slower at everything I do and there just isn’t enough time in the day. But several things changed my mind. First of all, there was a student director in this play named Ella Marchitello, who took it upon herself to run her cast up and down the stairs outside my room during UIL Academics practice. They were really loud and quite annoying and I was about to go “get off of my lawn” old man style on her when I came out of my room. This student director had an air of authority around her, she exuded confidence as she shouted her crew up and down the stairs. In my mind, I was thinking, “is this a student or a director I don’t know about” and, so rather than go up and make a fool of myself, which I would have done, I stepped up to her and asked what was going on. With that air of confidence, she said they were doing warmups for theatre and would be done soon. And I trudged back into my room. This was the characteristics of a true leader, a true director. What I saw in Ella was a future director, whether on Broadway or in Hollywood or in a school, this person was meant to be a creator and a collaborator. With a student director like this, commanding such devotion from the cast, I kind of wanted to see what the final product was going to look like. The second thing was seeing the stage set up during an in-service. When I first saw it outside of the context it was going to be used in, I thought I had somehow stepped into a bible revival or they were telling the story of Billy Budd, because the mast looked like the cross. The stage was nearly built, and as always, it was an immaculate setup. The third thing was Chocs came by to see me on the Tuesday they did previews and he reminded me that Julia Carrington was in Once Upon A Mattress. Once Upon A Mattress was the play that made me want to start writing reviews for Seven Lakes because it was so awesome. And now, the hand-picked successor to Chocs who was in that show was making her own shows at the same school. Now that is the definition of Be The Legacy. So, I knew I had to see it.


Joshua Heerssen yet again showed his creativity with an awesome set built by his crew. He had the aforementioned mass in the show, but he also had an incredible bridge that spanned the stage. The lighting cues were superb and really spiced up some scenes that showed great emotion. There were scenes in the play where they are running through the trees and the lighting and sound effects intensified the mood while the actors used small trees as shields to make the forest move. Josh’s crew created a hurricane wind storm with lights and sounds that was incredibly action packed. Ritika Singh was the costume and make-up mistress in the play, and this was an incredibly costumed play. It was fun and joyful. The pirates really popped and every outfit was fantastic. Molly really looked like a classic Wendy Bird. Smee looked the way Smee is expected to look. Bill Slank was the very definition of villain in their wardrobe. I also love how they portray the Crocodile. No one is ever going to create Disney’s crocodile which is just brilliant, but the creation of the abstract crocodile was awesome. I will always believe that the Seven Lakes sets are some of the best sets ever.


It is hard to replace Chocs Landgrebe. It is hard to follow up someone who is held in such high esteem. It is especially hard to do that when you learn under that person, because you know the gravity of his presence. In many ways, last year’s lost year where the theatre didn’t get much exposure because of the pandemic was a great time to take over and really work with the kids and help make them your own kids. Julia Carrington had a year to do some “soft opening” productions with Clue and the 39 Steps (gosh I wish I had seen that one) and the One Act Play. But Peter and the Starcatcher could be seen as her “Broadway” debut. This play is Julia Carrington’s blockbuster opening to everyone at Seven Lakes at full strength. She has her cast running through walls for her. When the show started, I literally got dizzy, because her style was fresh and abstract and vibrant. Whereas Chocs went for realism, his protegee went for abstract! Oh the possibilities that opened up! Her casting was superb. The way she uses a rope…A ROPE…is amazing. She has cast members as props, she encourages the go big or go home Joan Cusack acting method. There is a giddiness in her production and whimsiness and the cast is having the time of their lives. This was her Stephen Spielberg Jaws moment, this was her Christopher Nolan Memento moment, this was her Nora Ephron Sleepless in Seattle moment. To think what wonderful, new plays she is going to put on with this troupe is mind boggling.



The entire ensemble of the play is incredible, everyone went all out doing their part in the play. Even when the action is taking place upstage there are actors on the bridge reacting to action that is so real that you are surrounded by the emotion. And every actor had reactions going on based on the character they were playing. There were actors in the background that made you wish you know what their story was by the way they were emoting. It was a wonderful synergy for the entire crew. I wish I could talk about each and every speaking role because they were all awesome, but I don’t have time. But I would like to highlight Tanner McCane as Prentiss and Gaby Melendez as Ted. They were a wonderful comic duo that were portraying, basically, the lost boys as a whole and they were fantastic. Two other great comedic performances were done by Aiden Marsden playing Mrs. Bumbrake like the late, great Graham Chapman and Nick Smith playing Alf like the not so late, but still just as great Michael Palin. Those two really Monty Pythoned their roles, and with Julia’s penchant for the new, I wouldn’t be surprised if we had Spamalot show coming soon to Seven Lakes (or maybe it’s just my wish to see what Seven Lakes could do with that show).


Kyler Huyse played Lord Aster and no one has ever looked so British on a Seven Lakes stage than him. He reminds me of Josh O’Conner in the Crown and in Emma. He also reminds me of another incredible actor, Domhnall Hall. These are wonderful actors and I get the same feel for his ability. In addition, he is doing all the background singing in the show and he has a magnificent voice! One of the true villains is Melania Vasquez playing the pirate Bill Slank. Melania has great stage presence and intensity. Her portrayal is rugged and fierce and her performance is probably the most perfect of the cast. And she can take a heck of a punch. Watching her perform, I thought to myself, now there is an actor who could go on to do movie films.


Bryn Davis plays SMEEEEE! I love Smee. I love Smee in the Disney Peter Pan when played by Bill Thompson. I love Smee when he is played by Bob Hoskins. Smee is a fun, although evil, pirate. Bryn’s Smee is right there with those two. Bryn’s comic timing is delicious, the reactions are pure perfection, and she plays the best fictional toady to ever grace the screen. She looks like she is having fun up on stage and that spells out over to the audience.


Will Wozny plays Peter Pan. You know, you would think this role would be easy, just be a juvenile, fun loving boy. There is nothing hard with that at all. But the role of Peter is harder than that. Peter starts off like a DC superhero, all brooding and angsty. The entire play is centered around him opening up and becoming the carefree boy that we see in the original play. This requires the actor to hold back the joy, the antithesis of what Peter Pan is, and latch onto the world hating, then slowly, ever so slowly, get to a joyous state. This is a really hard role and Will Wozny navigates that path so well. Will Wozny is the lynchpin of the show, and his performance helps make all the other performances even better.


If Peter is not the joy of the film, then who is that joy that we so much expect in Peter? That would be Wendy-like stand in character Molly. Molly is all fun and enjoyable, high energy and hopeful. She is our real Peter-like hero and incorporates everything we expect Peter to have. This is the real protagonist in the show and it is played marvelously well by Kylie Hill. She is always moving and always upbeat. Wow! She is a fun character that the actress really goes to town with. Kylie is at 100% full energy throughout the show.


Which leads us to the show stealer, Black Stache! He is the villain of the show, and from the moment he arrives you know that he will become Captain Hook. One of the best pirate comedic villains of all time. SMEEEEE!!!!!!! You can hear it in your head, the scream from Hans Conried in the Disney animated film. You can see Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook in Spielberg’s Hook say, “I hate, I hate, I hate Peter Pan!” This is the role that won Christian Borle the Tony award. Bob Beathard gets this juicy role and what he did with it was sublime. It was his stage to own, his audience to command. He was magnificent. His pratfalls and turn of emotions were fantastic and you found yourself wanting more and more of his performance. My goodness he was absolutely funny. He and Bryn Davis played so well off each other like Captain Hook and Smee should. They were legendary.


It is refreshing and alive and the Studio VII is back, with a brand new, vibrant look that will make your day.



Paul Stroud