PITTSFIELD — "Peter Pan and the Starcatcher" is about Peter Pan before he became Peter Pan. The way GhostLit Rep co-artistic director Caitlin Teeley sees it, the play was made to order for the South County-based theater company she co-leads with Harrison Lang.
Small wonder, then, that the play (written by Rick Elice with music by Wayne Barker) is the first fully staged production of GhostLit Repertory Theatre Company's 2019 season. It begins performances Wednesday night (press opening is Thursday) at Saint James Place in Great Barrington, where it is scheduled to run through Sunday.
Teeley, who is directing this production, said a number of people had been suggesting this play to her for some time. When she saw a video of a performance, that sealed the deal.
"It just seemed to me so right for a group of young actors to just go with it and let it run," Teeley said during an interview at the Whitney Center for the Arts on Wendell Avenue, where the show was in rehearsal before moving down to Great Barrington.
The play had its first performances in 2009 at LaJolla Playhouse in California. It resurfaced at New York Theatre Workshop in February 2011 where it ran for three months. It officially opened on Broadway in April 2012, ran until January 2013 and then reopened Off-Broadway in March 2013 at New Word Stages where it ran until mid-January 2014. It won five Tony Awards, one for Christian Borle (Best Featured Actor in a Play) for his portrayal of the dastardly pirate Black Stache. (The other Tonys were for the production's sound, lighting, set and costume designs.)
"Peter and the Starcatcher" is conceived as a play-within-a-play, performed by an itinerant company of actors who each play an imaginative variety of multiple roles. It spins an adventure that involves a friendless, mistrustful 13-year-old orphan boy who will become Peter Pan; a fearsome pirate named Black Stache; a 13-year-old apprentice starcatcher named Molly Aster, who is eager to prove herself; and two identical steamer trunks — one containing a valuable cargo; the other is decoy.
It's a whirlwind of a play, something Teeley's actors discovered the minute they finished the first readthrough and got up in their feet.
"It reads very quick and with relative ease," said Caroline Fairweather, who is playing Molly. "You realize pretty quickly that in performing it, you have to put everything you have into it."
"There is virtually no time offstage," said Corey Bryant, who is playing the Boy/Peter. "Even when you are not in the action, you are doing something."
The story of Peter Pan has been one of the most enduring and beloved since the publication of James M. Barrie's book, "Peter and Wendy," in 1911 and a play he wrote two years earlier.
The story has been told and retold on stage and screen; in a much beloved Broadway musical; in a classic Disney animated feature. There have been prequels and sequels.
That the story has held strong over decades speaks to themes that touch everyone to one degree or another, Teeley said.
"It deals with fear of being alone, of abandonment," she said. "I think it mirrors the concept of imagination we all have as a child."
"There are so many symbols in the story that we all know," Bryant said.
At its heart, "Peter Pan" is the story of a boy who has had something of a hard-knock life.
"He's had a tough childhood at the hands of grown-ups," Bryant said. "Peter wants to enjoy this time. What he wants is a chance to be a kid. Even though you grow up, you don't have to grow up."
All of these meaningful thematic elements are in the story's DNA, but, Fairweather suggested, "you don't have to put all this weight on it. It's just that as you work on this, you realize what is there waiting for you."
Teeley hopes audiences will have that same awakening.
"I want people to have strong reaction to this," she said. "I want people to find their way into it."
"Yes, it's the story about Peter Pan," said Miller, "but wait until you come inside it."