“PETER AND THE STARCATCHER,” through May 18, Hale Centre Theatre, 3333 S. Decker Lake Drive, West Valley City (801-984-9000 or hct.org); running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (one intermission)
WEST VALLEY CITY — Similar to how the hit Broadway musical “Wicked” shows audiences how the Wicked Witch of the West became wicked, “Peter and the Starcatcher” does the same for the backstory of Peter Pan. Why does Peter never grow up? Why did Capt. Hook become his rival? And just why does that crocodile tick?
These questions and a few more are answered in the Tony Award-winning play, which runs at Hale Centre Theatre through May 18. Based on the 2006 Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson novel “Peter and the Starcatchers,” the play opened on Broadway in 2012.
“Peter” is an unconventional approach to storytelling — it’s fantastical, playful and imaginative. The sets are nebulous, and the actors play numerous characters, including different genders and creatures. Sometimes they’re in the scene, and sometimes the audience is supposed to pretend they don’t see them.
Rick Elice’s script is delightful. It’s quick, witty and filled with one-liners, wordplay and more alliteration than one knows what to do with. It’s a delight to listen to for those who can keep up; the pacing is rapid-fire and requires attention.
Though director Dave Tinney’s cast is lively and brings plenty of energy to the unusual piece, the HCT production falls short in a few key places.
HCT typically impresses with its capabilities in the round — and it does plenty of that in “Peter” — but this piece is not a perfect fit; it has too many moments of feeling busy and confusing. The play uses numerous visual gags for comedy or as scene-setters, and it’s difficult if one can’t see what’s happening, as noted by bobbing heads and sighs of frustration among audience members. There are also moments when the group onstage is charging off together and merely circles the stage as a mob, losing the impact of traveling somewhere.
Andrew Robertson (Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday cast) is delightful as Peter — he’s youthful and spirited. His muse, Molly Aster, is played with spunk by Amber Dodge Tinney, and she holds her own as the only female in the cast.
Black Stache is a villain who tries to be a bad guy but bumbles and fumbles his not-so-bright self through a series of robbery attempts. Ben Abbott plays Stache with a nice presence but never reaches the comedic potential of the role. Part of the Stache comedy comes from the one-two punch with his sidekick, Smee, played by Ben Parkes. The pair volleys one-liners back and forth throughout the night, and Abbott and Parkes didn’t land the rhythm. It should be noted, however, Abbott typically performs with the other cast, so it’s possible they weren’t accustomed to each other.
The rest of the cast is fun, and it is enjoyable to watch them play a variety of roles. Kacey Udy’s set design works well, and a bravo is in order for music director Kelly DeHaan’s live accompaniment for the cast through moments of music and, along with Jacob Bradshaw, sound effects.
The beauty with a show like “Peter” is it gets more solid as the run continues — so theatergoers can put on their “imagination caps” and have fun.
Erica Hansen was the theater editor at the Deseret News for more than three years. An area performer, she was also the original host of the radio program "Showtune Saturday Night."