The most important thing to bring to the Illinois Shakespeare Festival's "Peter and the Starcatcher" (besides your family) is your imagination.
Andy Park directs this decidedly low-tech prequel to “Peter Pan” using a terrific ensemble of actors and a mishmash of attic props.
For example, two lit up umbrellas and a string of pennants become a giant crocodile. It’s the best stage trick of all — get the audience to see it in their minds.
The exuberant and resourceful ensemble is all over the accommodating wooden set by John C. Stark, appearing in dozens of delightful costumes by Lauren Lowell.
Aside from a healthy sprinkling of today’s locutions (“TTFN!”), the whole thing feels rooted in the early 20th century when J. M. Barrie’s original "Peter Pan" hit the stage.
Adapted by Rick Elice from Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s 2004 children’s novel, this play tells the story of how a trampled 13-year-old orphan sets sail, learns to fly, finds Neverland and becomes, you guessed it, Peter Pan (a heartfelt Christopher Peltier).
Along the way, the audience gets to swash buckle along with brave young Molly (Eva Balistieri, phenomenal), her father Lord Aster (Thomas Anthony Quinn, lordly and kind), her nanny Mrs. Bumbrake (a hilarious Jonathan Gillard Daly), and bumbling first mate Smee (festival Director Kevin Rich).
The first act is devoted to colliding ships and switched up trunks, one of which contains Starstuff, the magic dust that endows the gift of flight and/or the burden of too much power.
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Only Molly and her father know about it because they are Starcatchers.
On separate ships, they communicate through magic amulets. The scene where Molly reads Norse code, which is a Viking system akin to Morse Code, is incredibly funny.
Act Two involves men-playing-mermaids and a tribe of natives called Mollusks. It’s a hoot.
The “most deliciously memorable” award goes to Chris Amos as Black Stache, who in a show-stopping sequence of “oh my god’s” begins morphing into Captain Hook.
It’s just too wonderful to give away here.
"Peter Pan" has been beloved for decades, whether folks come to it through books, cartoons or movies. Why? Well, maybe we all retain our childhood wish to fly.
Plus, it’s the ultimate bedtime story, brimful of friendship, adventure, fun-scary bad guys, heroics, and the longing both to grow up and to never grow up.