A 'Starcatcher' is born at Ethington Theatre

Story by Lana Sweeten-Shults
Photos by David Kadlubowski
GCU News Bureau

“Peter and the Starcatcher” unfolds on Grand Canyon University’s Ethington Theatre stage in dark, muted tones that dilly-dally in shadowy corners of a stark orphanage and a dilapidated ship.

Black Stache (Megan Sutton) tries to persuade Peter (Isaac O'Farrell) to join his band of pirates.

But then …

A shimmer of color, in happy sea-meets-green and coral-show-off pink, on spectacular mermaids’ tails brightens the stage.

These nooks and crannies of magic poke out of those dark, muted tones in the Michael Kary-directed “Peter and the Starcatcher,” the Tony Award-winning prequel to J.M. Barrie’s children’s classic, “Peter Pan.”

The play opens at 7:30 Friday night for a two-weekend run.

“There’s a really dark, cool feel to the show. But the mermaids are bright, vibrant. There’s magic, and I think things that are touched by magic in this world are more vibrant,” Kary, GCU theatre instructor, said of contrasting the browns, grays and shadowy locales of the real world with the magical elements that begin to emerge before Peter Pan's story is fully realized.

“This is the prequel to ‘Peter Pan,’” Kary said. “This is the origin story, so we’re not in Neverland … yet.”

Smee (Devin Erwert, center) readies to open Queen Victoria's trunk, where Black Stache (Megan Sutton, left) believes treasure is hidden.

“Starcatcher” takes place in that in-between place between the real world and Peter Pan’s fantastical Neverland, so the audience will see elements of both worlds coming together in this tale, written by New York Times best-selling author Ridley Pearson and Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper columnist Dave Barry.

Pearson was reading “Peter Pan” to his daughter one day when she asked him, “How did Peter Pan and Captain Hook meet?”

He and Barry decided to answer that question in “Peter and the Starcatchers,” which would become a best-selling novel in 2004. The play, by Rick Elice, would make its debut on Broadway eight years later.

The story, set in 1885 during the reign of Queen Victoria, takes its audience on a pirate-infested, seafaring adventure. Lord Leonard Aster (Micah Larsen)  has been tasked with protecting a great treasure -- a trunk full of “starstuff.” The magical substance falls from the stars and turns those who come in contact with it into whoever they want to be. If starstuff falls into the wrong hands, such as a rogue pirate bent on treasure, that would be disastrous. So Lord Aster, one of the world’s 6½ starcatchers, must take the trunk of starstuff to the island of Rundoon and destroy it by throwing it into Mount Jalapeño.

Lord Aster boards a ship called the Wasp to make sure the trunk gets safely to Rundoon. His plucky daughter, Molly (McKenna Kollman), under the watchful eye of proper British nanny Mrs. Bumbrake (Ryan Ardelt), also is traveling to Rundoon but on a much safer ship dubbed the Neverland.

Apprentice starcatcher Molly (McKenna Kollman) is called into action.

But then Lord Aster discovers the starstuff is not on The Wasp at all but on The Neverland. Now it’s up to Molly, a starcatcher in training, to keep the starstuff from falling into the wrong hands with the help of three orphan boys, foodie Ted (Mackenzie Reppy), power-hungry Prentiss (Brandon Brown) and a nameless but clever orphan simply called Boy, who will later become Peter Pan (Isaac O'Farrell). Keeping the starstuff safe might be a challenge, considering scene-stealing pirate Black Stache (Megan Sutton) has commandeered The Wasp and is in pursuit of The Neverland.

He wants the treasure on board. Little does he know the treasure isn’t what he thinks it is.

Kary has borrowed from other “Peter Pan” films and books to bring his vision of “Starcatcher” to the stage, though he has added his own touches, such as telling the tale through the eyes of orphans.

“The whole myth that’s behind Peter Pan is he’s the boy who never grew up," Kary said. "So I was thinking about places where kids have to grow up faster than they should, and an orphanage is one of those places. We’ve got some friends who have adopted or are in the process of adopting … and it just spoke to me.”

Looking at the play through a child's eyes, the audience will hear effects that will sound as if they were created by children, using what they have on hand -- their own voices.  And props that the orphans have at their disposal in the orphanage serve as tools in the play, such as a vintage clawfoot tub as Black Stache’s boat and a scrub brush as his sword.

Since children are presenting this story, imagination is an integral part of the play.

“I thought, what do we do to stay young? We tell stories and we use our imaginations,” Kary said.

The audience must use its imagination to “see” waves, as cast members stand in a line to make a wave with their bodies, and to believe that an actor cannot only be a cat but a flying cat. They’ll envision windows made by knotted-together sheets pulled into a taut square shape and “see” the motion of a ship as the cast rocks back and forth in unison.

“These orphans are creating this whole world around us,” Sutton said. “In the jungle, we make the jungle sounds.”

"Peter and the Starcatcher" tells the origin story of Peter Pan.

O'Farrell added, “All of the effects and sound are very much from children’s imaginations. Flying and swimming I both do without water or lines (wires). It’s all just people carrying me.”

Imagination is a major theme in “Starcatcher.” As Molly says, “To have faith is to have wings.”

Kary remembers that scene from another Peter Pan film, “Hook,” in which everyone is enjoying a resplendent feast that doesn’t really exist, except for the grown-up Peter Pan, “until he actually imagines it, and he can see it, and there’s just food everywhere, and it’s wonderful."

“Most of the magic is dependent on the audience, because we show you everything we’re doing."

In his director’s notes for the play -- one whose sets and costumes are entirely student-produced -- Kary said some audience members will see a night full of strings; others will see a night full of magic.

“A play is an opportunity to practice believing in something,” he said.

The magic for Kollman and Sutton is being able to portray such strong female characters.

Mrs. Bumbrake (Ryan Ardelt, second from left) tells Molly (McKenna Kollman, third from left) about a time in her youth.

Kollman describes Molly as fearless. “She puts others before her. She sees the glass as half full.”

And Sutton has the time of her life playing the malapropism-spewing, "facial-foliage"-obsessed Stache, the precursor to Capt. Hook and the source of much of the play's humor. Some of his malopropisms: "No man is an archipelago," "They lived awfully ever after" and "The game's a-shoe" (instead of afoot).

What she loves is how Kary doesn't hesitate to cast a female in a traditionally male role and vice versa.

"Black Stache is traditionally played by a man. But Michael is pretty cool because he casts who's best for the role. There are lots of traditional male roles being played by females," she said, and female roles being played by men, such as Ryan Ardelt joyfully portraying Mrs. Bumbrake and a gaggle of mermaids being performed by some manly men.

Larsen said it was fun connecting the dots from "Starcatcher" to "Peter Pan" and having the opportunity to bring all that magic to the stage. “It’s cool to be able to look back at certain moments, like how the crocodile came to have a clock in his stomach.”

For him, the most magical part of the show is when Peter finally gets his name: “It just makes me think I’m a kid again.”

O'Farrell said one big theme that this play brings home is this: “A lot of it is about finding home, and it doesn’t always look cookie-cutter. Peter’s looking for that. It’s all he wants the whole show.”

An orphan boy (Isaac O'Farrell) makes his debut as Peter Pan.

And of course, like Larsen, O'Farrell brings the story back to that other big theme.

“To have faith is to have wings,” he said. “… And just to believe.”

GCU Today senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.


What: “Peter and the Starcatcher”

Where: GCU’s Ethington Theatre

When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays from today to Nov. 25

Tickets: $12 general admission. Discounted tickets for senior citizens, military personnel, GCU employees and alumni, children 12 years old and younger, and GCU students. 

Information: 602-639-8800

Also starring

Christian Bradford as Grempkin

Kaleb Burris as Slank

Alex Cavanaugh as Scott

Joel Segraves as Ludwig

Christina McSheffrey as Fighting Prawn

Gavin Harris as Hawking Clam

Michael Massone as Mack

Sam Brown as Cheese

Jessica Rumrill as Alf

Tylor Sorrels as Lefty

Devin Erwert as Smee

Emily Sheppard as Teacher


Calendar of Events

M Mon

T Tue

W Wed

T Thu

F Fri

S Sat

S Sun

3 events,

2 events,

1 event,

3 events,

3 events,

5 events,

3 events,

1 event,

2 events,

0 events,

1 event,

0 events,

1 event,

2 events,

0 events,

0 events,

0 events,

3 events,

5 events,

0 events,

2 events,

1 event,

0 events,

3 events,

3 events,

3 events,

1 event,

0 events,

GCU Magazine

Bible Verse

My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you... (Galatians 4:19)

To Read More: www.verseoftheday.com/