Catch ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’ at Festival Rep this Summer

South Florida’s larger theater companies follow the northern tradition of taking a seasonal break during the summer. But smaller companies have known for years that full-time residents far outnumber the cultured snowbird class of days of yore. Happy to fill the gap – and encourage those who exclusively patronize national touring troupes at massive arenas to give the locals a try – are our many talented smaller theaters. Where you can catch a star of tomorrow before they become a household name. And see a world premiere or quirky older play you might never have heard of, and are unlikely to encounter anytime soon.

Fitting both criteria is FAU’s professional student production of PETER AND THE STARCATCHER. Originally adapted for the stage by directors Roger Rees and Alex Timbers, and written by Dick Elise with music by Wayne Parker, the play is based on the novels by Dave Barry (yes, our beloved Pulitzer-winning commentator whose nationally syndicated Miami Herald humor column ran for decades) with bestselling adventure author Ridley Pearson. “Peter” garnered several Tonys after opening on Broadway in 2012 and won’s Audience Choice Award for Favorite Play and Favorite Funny Performance.

Presenting the 15-member cast of PETER AND THE STARCATCHER: an irreverent, action-packed prequel to the Peter Pan story, playing now through June 29 at FAU’s University Theatre in Boca Raton. Morgan Sophia Photography.

As for funny, with Dave Barry’s writing as inspiration, it is sure to contain plenty of laughs – and it does, in every aspect. Comically outrageous content, crazy word play, and slapstick insanity abound. As Florida Atlantic University (FAU) Department of Theater & Dance’s inaugural FESTIVAL REP 2024 production (followed by “Xanadu” and “Swing Era Jazz Concerts”), this not quite “musical” is also heavily backed by live music and contains numerous songs by individuals and groups whose performances are show stoppers. All thanks to the university department’s active, outstanding faculty and musician team of Caryl Fantel on piano (who also serves as conductor) and Roy Fantel on drums, percussion, and creator of Foley sound effects.

Considering that one of the play’s five Tonys was awarded for scenic design, our local production’s scenic designer Michael McClain had big shoes to fill, and he did so mightily. The default stage set holds the bones of a Victorian-era, multi-level wooden schooner that’s just rough enough to be recast (with foliage additions) as an island shore, mountain or threatening jungle. Like everything in the show, his was a team effort that included work by scene shop manager Matt McCord, props head/scenic charge Aubrey Kestell, head carpenter Emilia Borean and crew, and scenic painters Elysa Belongie, Simon Lopez, Julia Gallagher, and their crew. And for bringing it all to vivid life we can thank lighting designer Thomas Shorrock, technical director Rebecca Lucatero, and sound designer Harmon Casey.

The show encompasses insanely fast and furious comedic action and rhetoric, quips, slurs, bantering spoofs, fist fights, mop-held sword fights, craven insults, injuries, and more. The storyline (in a very different style from the original “Peter Pan” saga) is an inventive, irreverent prequel to J. M. Barrie’s 1904 play and 1911 novel, titled “Peter and Wendy,” where one learns the backstory of Peter and the Lost Boys, Mrs. Darling, Hook, and Tinkerbell. You’ll see. It’s all neatly explained at the end.

But first you need to fasten your seatbelts and put on your sharpest thinking caps because from the second the curtain rises, you’re off on a nonstop crazy adventure ride that will leave you gasping, giggling, utterly enchanted and for some, occasionaly, a bit confused. But just hold on and stay with the show – you’re bound to get the gist if not every allusion as there’s no time to catch your breath during the lengthy First Act before intermission.

Peter Pan (Zach Marullo) and Molly Aster (Shayna Gilberg) protect a starstuff-laden trunk (they hope) in Festival Rep’s out-of-this-world presentation of PETER AND THE STARCATCHER. Playing now through June 29 at FAU’s main campus in Boca Raton. Morgan Sophia Photography.

The show’s director, Lee Soroko, did an impressive job because not a single one of his 15-member advanced theater student and pro actor cast slipped up (unless they were supposed to slip and fall) in their physically and verbally intense portrayals of some 100 characters. We first meet “Boy” (Zach Marullo) – it’s a while till dejected but nonetheless conscientious and reliable orphan Peter gets a first name, and finally a last name too. He’s in the company of two bedraggled but comical mates: power-hungry Prentiss (Trevor Gill) and sticky-pudding-obsessed Ted (Raymond Adderly III).  All three orphans are thrown below decks to await a horrid fate aboard one of two high-rigged sailing vessels bound for a distant island kingdom with precious cargo – one real starstuff-filled trunk and one empty decoy. The lads’ ship, The Neverland, is considered the decoy.

The year is 1885, Victoria is Queen (frequently hailed at such whenever her name is mentioned) and Lord Aster (Kyle Smith), a Starcatcher (who “catches” magical starstuff that falls from the sky) is accompanying the real trunk aboard The Wasp to keep it safe for the Queen and far from those who’d seek its wish-granting powers for evil. After much persuasion, Aster allows his apprentice Starcatcher daughter, precocious 13-year-old Molly (Shayna Gilberg), to sail aboard The Neverland that’s bound for the same destination and keep him posted. Each wears a starstuff-infused amulet around their neck which glows when they wish to communicate and functions like a cellphone for verbal conversations.

Oh the horror! Even pirates can’t believe their eyes – and the length of their leader, Black Stache’s, gesticulations of agony – when he accidentally chops off his hand. Morgan Sophia Photography.

For extra security, they share secret languages like Dodo, Porpoise … but nothing beats Molly’s extended monologue in Norse Code (a Morse-code like system created by ancient Vikings). Sounded a bit like Finnish or Swedish to me; even if made up, it’s still highly impressive.  As is Molly’s can-do, take-charge attitude (miles removed from any Victorian-era wallflower). Her relentless curiosity eventually leads her to discover the captive orphans, and save their lives.

Of course, she’s supposed to be looked after by her nanny, Mrs. Bumbrake, who in traditional British pantomime style is cast as a male. Heavy-set Mitchell B. Mackenzie, who is hilarious just to look at as a woman, employs all his “assets” – including a high-pitched feminine voice that devolves to growling masculinity when he’s crossed. But the nanny’s hardly paying attention to her ward as “she” is being hotly pursued by coarse sailor Alf (Anthony Blatter) who actually wins her heart (while she ultimately provides the muscle for a rowing rescue after they’re shipwrecked).

Now it should come as no surprise to learn that both ship captains are actually pirates, with the one legitimate helmsman, Captain Robert Falcon Scott (Daryan Lyew-Ayee), played by a man, swiftly tied up during a pirate takeover. Led by Black Stache, as in Blackbeard, but sporting his family’s trademark mustache. Stache is portrayed by Cait Siobhan Kiley, the female star of the show, often accompanied by first mate and confidant Smee (Joel Rodriguez). The pirate captain’s greatest wish is to become a great villain; he’s intelligent but prone to malaprorpisms and anachronistic jokes that leave us in stitches. But no one can stitch back his chopped-off hand that will one day be replaced by a Hook.

Treacherous Black Stache (Cait Siobhan Kiley) and his first-mate Smee (Joel Rodriguez) subdue Her Majesty’s true Captain Robert Falcon Scott (Daryan Lyew-Ayee, under British flag) to steal his ship’s precious cargo. Morgan Sophia Photography.

Meanwhile, as pirates are wont to do, he’ll fight a competing pirate ship’s captain,  greedy and cruel Bill Slank (Caitlin Foster), who’d commandeered The Neverland. Also effectively portrayed by a woman (sans mustache). They duel with mop handles in place of swords. Plenty of frightening, pretend action follows – like being thrown overboard and rescues at sea. Act II opens with a hilarious, all-male mermaid choir, who’d begun their lives as fish, singing in unison: “Star stuff made a mermaid out of me.” Anyone else hear echoes of Monty Python? Here, there, and everywhere?

I won’t divulge too many more details; hopefully this outline will keep you somewhat grounded for the multitude of surprises that await. For all the great songs, we can also thank choreographer Shayna Gilberg. For all those lines she recited, as Molly, in an upper-class British accent, we can thank dialect coach Joel M. Rodriguez (who also did double duty as Smee). Fights of all sorts among the ruffians were coordinated by director/fight director Lee Soroko and no one bumped into anyone (unless they were supposed to) thanks to stage manager Molly Brinn. While costume designer Tim Bowman treated us to an ever-evolving visual feast of elegant Victorian, pirate, native islander, and fantastical get ups by the scores.

Welcome aboard the wild side of Festival Rep 2024 where PETER AND THE STARCATCHER is playing through June 29 at University Theatre, Florida Atlantic University, 777 Glades Road, Boca Raton 33431. For tickets see or call 561-297-6124.

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