In Starcatcher, Peter Pan Takes Off in a New Direction

By Robert Simonson
16 Feb 2011

Roger Rees on the first day of rehearsal at New York Theatre Workshop.
Roger Rees on the first day of rehearsal at New York Theatre Workshop.
Photo by Stephanie Warren

Three bold imaginations give wing to a new theatrical chapter in the legend of Peter Pan in Off-Broadway's Peter and the Starcatcher.

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There are many plays and musicals that, decade in and decade out, receive new leases on life through regular revivals. But few are the characters in literature that so inspire dramatic writers that they are consistently reborn in completely new scripts, with new adventures for beloved characters. Hedda Gabler reborn as Heddatron, for example; or Dracula singing a high tenor note in Dracula the Musical; or Sherlock Holmes in any number of TV, movie and play plots.

An unlikely member of this very grown-up company is Peter Pan, the famous boy that wouldn't grow up. Created by Scottish author J.M. Barrie, Peter first appeared in the 1902 book "The Little White Bird." Barrie's play version was regularly performed on Broadway from 1905 through the 1920s. It was then converted into a musical — by Carolyn Leigh, Mark Charlap, Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green — that has also been regularly produced on Broadway and elsewhere since 1954.



And now, well into the 21st century, we have Peter and the Starcatcher, a new Off-Broadway play opening in March at New York Theatre Workshop. This Peter comes to us second hand, in a way. Though obviously inspired by Barrie's characters, it is actually drawn from a popular 2004 kid lit book by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson (the book's title is slightly different than the play — it's called "Peter and the Starcatchers"). The book is so popular that it was followed by three additional books. The play was adapted by Rick Elice, and is co-directed by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers.

A curious triumvirate, those gentlemen. How did the respective Jersey Boys writer, a Royal Shakespeare Company vet and the co-creator of the cheeky emo-rock musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson end up working on the same project? Well, because they all worked at Williamstown Theater Festival during the same summer.

Rick Elice
photo by Aubrey Reuben

Timbers was at Williamstown noodling around with the show that would become Bloody Bloody when Roger Rees, then the artistic director of the festival, invited him to take part in a project based on the "Starcatchers" book. Elice, also there, was asked to contribute some text. (Rees and Elice co-wrote the thriller Double Double, which was produced at Williamstown in 2006.) "Roger and Alex were directing a workshop of the section of the novel at the festival," recalled Elice. The workshop went so well that authors Barry and Pearson suggested the trio do more. This led to a second, more expanded workshop in New York.

"I was always a Peter Pan geek," said Elice. "I was introduced early on — not just to the Martin Martin and Disney, but my parents took me to see the J.M. Barrie play and I began to be fascinated with all the Barrie stuff. It all kind of excited my imagination as a kid. I remember being so happy as a kid with the idea of being Peter Pan, not having any bedtime or parents."

Additionally, he was hardly unfamiliar with "Peter and the Starcatchers." The book had crossed his desk in galley form when he was a creative consultant at Disney in 2002. He read it, and Disney subsequently optioned it for an animated feature. The movie was never made, however, and the rights to the book again became available. For the record, Peter and the Starcatcher was commissioned by Disney Theatrical Productions.

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