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The Westfield Voice

The Westfield Voice

Review: Peter and the Starcatcher

Dave Fried
The Westfield State University Theater Dept. presents Peter and the Star Catcher in the Ely Black Box Theater, November 2023

Almost everyone knows the story of Peter Pan, Wendy, the Lost Boys, and Captain Hook, but did you know there’s a whole other story prior to the events of Disney’s 1953 movie?

Running from November 15 – 18, the Westfield State University Theatre Arts Department’s production of Rick Elice’s Peter and the Starcatcher is an upbeat, whimsical joyride full of heroes, pirates, a few Brits, and a little touch of magic. The musical numbers were catchy and incredibly entertaining, especially a particularly memorable one involving flippers and swimming goggles. 

Perhaps the most successful aspect of the production was the dynamic nature of Heather Crocker Aulenback’s set design. Consisting of scrap wood, ladders, wicker baskets, brooms, and miscellaneous drapes, screens, and shutters, the set brought a whole new level of dimension to an otherwise relatively small theater. Through clever uses of door shutters, ropes, and a variety of other props, the show invited the audience to exercise their imagination and conjure up pirate ships, daring escapes, and desert islands.

James McNamara and Gary Cannon’s lighting and sound design also helped to set the scene. Something as simple as a rainstick to indicate a change in weather or blue, wavy lighting to signal an underwater scene catapulted the audience from the black box theater to a dramatic tale on the high seas. The use of lightbulbs as stars and connections between characters was particularly clever in engaging the audience, and Gary Cannon’s one-man performance of a wide range of percussion instruments tricked the audience into thinking the show was accompanied by a thirty-piece orchestra. 

The characterization of the various personalities in the show completely captured the goofiness and childlike exaggeration of Disney. Ricky Hartford’s “Smee” and Amber Thetonia’s “Black Stache” were the dynamic duo of the show, with excellent comedic timing that delighted fans of all ages – from the supportive grandmothers cackling along to the young children captivated by the silliness onstage. Katie Sullivan’s performance of “Molly” had all the innocence, petulance, and devil-may-care attitude of a thirteen year old girl, and Sophia Barker’s “Brumbrake” was the comical mother figure we all needed.

The physical comedy of the show was further heightened by small details, such as the simple yet effective design of mismatched stripes, rags, and hats to bring to life orphans, pirates, and native island tribes. There were also some entertaining fourth wall breaks, including a plea from “Black Stache” to hurry up business because “people paid for nannies and parking!”, as well as a duel staged as a modern boxing match, complete with hecklers and a fast-talking announcer. 

Overall, the production was fun, full of joy, and just the right side of ridiculous. Aside from the obvious technical achievements, the cast was the (star)stuff stars are made of, and the 2023-2024 season of Westfield State University’s Theatre Department is definitely one to watch.

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