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Hale Centre Theatre to tap imaginations with pre-'Pan’ story ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’

SHARE Hale Centre Theatre to tap imaginations with pre-'Pan’ story ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’

WEST VALLEY CITY — The image of a young boy in green togs and a small cap flying over Neverland has become a mainstay for children, and it’s a story adults don't mind indulging them with for the umpteenth time.

Created by author J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan has been featured in numerous incarnations, from the classic animated flick to television shows and, of course, big-screen blockbusters.

The Tony Award-winning "Peter and the Starcatcher" is one of those tales that draw on the whimsy of the boy who would never grow up. Considered a prequel to the classic Peter Pan story, “Starcatcher” takes audiences on a fantastical journey that explores the depth of imagination of both the characters and the audience.

"This style of storytelling is so pure, it requires the audience to participate with their imaginations and much more," said Dave Tinney, who directs the upcoming production at Hale Centre Theatre. "It is the closest thing to the way we played when we were kids, when one second you're a pirate and the stick you're holding is a sword, and a split second later you immediately become something else and the sword is now a cane or the oar of the boat. … The authors were brilliant to tell the story of a boy who will eventually be given eternal youth by using the most pure, childlike method of play."

The play is based on the 2006 children's novel “Peter and the Starcatchers,” written by Pulitzer Prize-winner and humorist Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. The stage adaptation went on to win five Tonys.

"Starcatcher" is unconventional storytelling in that the sets are often rather vague and the characters often become various set pieces or other characters.

But Hale had a greater challenge in capturing the magic on its theater-in-the-round stage.

"It bent my brain more than any other show I've done at Hale," Tinney said. "So many of the theatrical devices written into the script were created for a proscenium stage. Kacey Udy, our brilliant set designer, has done a masterful job preserving the purity and simplicity — it actually helped bring a new clarity to the story for me."

Tinney is no stranger to Hale's stage, having directed over 10 shows there. But "Starcatcher" holds a special place for the director.

"When I was a teenager, I saw the original Broadway production of 'Nicholas Nickleby,'" he said. "I remember the moment in the show when I thought to myself, 'This is what I want to do.' It changed the trajectory of my life. … Roger Rees, who played Nicholas in that production, directed the original 'Starcatcher' on Broadway. When I was asked to direct this show, it was humbling. Walking in the footsteps of my hero … (is) intimidating and humbling."

The play allows audiences to glimpse some of those formative moments for Peter — the turn of events that shaped him.

"I think ‘Peter Pan’ touches us because it accesses that moment in time when we all stood on the edge of childhood and we knew we had reached a point of no return," Tinney said. "When we experience his story, we feel that longing to return to the innocence and freedom of being a kid, but knowing it could never be the same because even if we could return, we would carry the knowledge of everything we would lose if we didn't grow up."

But though there is much childlike play and imagination in “Starcatcher,” it is not exactly a children's play in the way one might expect.

“It wouldn't be impossible for kids under 8 to follow it, but I think that the older the child, the more they will be able to appreciate it and understand it,” Tinney said, noting the staging is more fantastical. “I do wonder though if younger kids will accept the style of storytelling much more readily than adults — they are much closer to the time when pretending was easy for them. Hopefully the 14- to 90-year-old children will surrender too."

If you go ...

What: "Peter and the Starcatcher"

When: April 13-May 18, times vary, matinees available

Where: Hale Centre Theatre, 3333 S. Decker Lake Drive, West Valley City

How much: $16-$30

Phone: 801-984-9000

Web: hct.org

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."