ALBANY — At the intermission of Sunday’s matinee, I overheard a woman say to a friend, “Yes, I like it. You just go with it.”
That was a succinct and accurate description of my reaction to Act 1 of “Peter and the Starcatcher,” being given a delightfully winking performance by the forces at Albany Civic Theater. You don’t know exactly what kind of play you’re seeing, but the script is so clever and the production so polished that you simply go with the flow.
Unfortunately, the script goes south halfway through Act 2 as Rick Elice, working from a novel by Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson, tries to cobble together a satisfying explanation for how Peter Pan became Peter Pan. The last 15 minutes are a chore.
But the goodwill built up by the company and the expert tech crew, all under Brian Sheldon’s playful direction (with an able assist from Melanie Douglas), is enough to make you stay put.
The 12-member ensemble plays multiple parts, breaks the fourth wall, cross-dresses, sings (incidental music by Wayne Barker), dances, and otherwise acts goofy in providing the back story (with deep apologies to J.M. Barrie — or maybe not?) of the boy who never really wanted to grow up.
On a marvelous set by Adam M. Coons, who is also a laugh riot as Smee, right-hand man — er, assistant — to Black Stache (Evan Jones), the forerunner of Captain Hook, they cavort and act without shame. Deo gratias. David Caso is the lighting guru; Barry Streifert has provided an apt sound design; Beth Ruman has dressed them for maximum guffaws; Cece Widomski has kept the whole thing from descending into chaos with stern stage management; and Joanne Peal has, no doubt, reined in some of Sheldon’s wackiest inclinations.
This is a marvelous ensemble, and you get that right away when they croon a tune together, speak in choral mode, leer suggestively at the audience, or change up their personalities at the drop of an article of clothing.
They’re abetted in this silliness by the fine pianist Carter N. Holmes, whose bio indicates that he is a recent college graduate and likes to “do things that scare him.” I think he must have been scared — in a good way — by the old pros he’s called upon to work for.
Everybody contributes to the show’s success, but I will single out the work of David Quinones as Ted; Rick Reed as numerous characters; Kevin X. McNamara as Mrs. Bumbrake and the teacher (boy, does this guy know how to read a line); Aeshly Grace, as Molly (soon-to-be-Wendy), whose portrayal is spot-on but whose speed of delivery sometimes gets the best of her; Evan Jones, whose pantomime in Act 2 is alone worth the price of admission; and Steve Maggio, who, amid all this zaniness makes us feel something: a very sweet characterization. Of course, you will have your favorites.
See it? Absolutely. You’ll laugh at the bits, which come fast and furious. The actors are having a ball, and if you can bear with the final pages you will, too.
‘Peter and the Starcatcher’
WHERE: Albany Civic Theater, 235 Second Ave., Albany
WHEN: Through Sept. 24
HOW MUCH: $18
MORE INFO: 518-462-1297 or albanycivictheater.org
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