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'Peter and the Starcatcher' works its magic at the Kennedy Center

The award-winning "Peter and the Starcatcher" will reach the Hippodrome in May, when I will have more to say on this delectable play. But, having enjoyed it so much on Broadway, I couldn't wait to see it again, so I headed to the Kennedy Center, where the show is running through Feb. 16. Now I can't wait to catch it yet again in Baltimore. Yes, it's that good.

If you think the prequel market was cornered by "Wicked," think again. "Peter and the Starcatcher," written by Rick Elice and based on a novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, provides a wildly imaginative back-story to "Peter Pan." Elice, who knows a thing or two about entertainment (his credits include "Jersey Boys"), has created a masterwork of linguistic and theatrical fun that jumps out and grabs you from the get-go.

The story involves a wild voyage filled with orphans, pirates and magical "star stuff," all fueled by delectable dashes of British music hall silliness (a chorus line of men in mermaid drag is just one of the unexpected pleasures). Along the way, a nameless frightened boy gains courage, a moniker (Peter, of course), and access to Neverland. Meanwhile, a dastardly, if awfully funny, captain ends up with a hook.

What makes all of this more than just a romp is the way Ellis slips in various lessons about growing up -- and grownups. When all the puns are done, when the slapstick fades, something sensitive and telling glows in the air, something besides the pixie darting around in the last scene. 

The touring production is terrific. The cast, directed by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers, charges into every bit of action with spot-on timing.

Joey deBettencourt does a vibrant, winning turn as the Boy. Megan Stern gives a snappy performance as his unexpected friend and guide, Molly. Threatening to chomp on every last snippet of scenery, John Sanders tackles the role of the pirate leader Black Stache, he of the "piratical BVDs in a twist," with a panache that just won't quit.

Donyale Werle's surprise-filled set design looks great in the center's Eisenhower Theater (and should look even a little more at home in the Hippodrome).



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