Peter and the Starcatcher

peterstarcatcher300x300You are correct, there has been a “boatload’ of Peter and the Starcatcher productions this summer, three in fact.  I must confess I did not see Little Lake or the University of Pittsburgh’s productions.

I did see the Broadway national tour in 2014 and the Shaw Festivals production in 2015, both left me with the feeling of “meh”.

This review of Stage 62’s charmingly clever production of Peter and the Starcatcher was for me a voyage of re-discovery.  It was as if I had never really “seen” the show before.

Starcatcher is a comedy with some music, but not a musical. There are the requisite dancing girls, in this case mermaids, played pretty much mostly by boys. The opening number to the second act is hilarious.

Without getting too much into the plot here (You can read about that in Nicole Tafe’s review of the Little Lake production in the PITR archives here) Starcatcher is the prequel to J.M. Barrie’s 1904 novel Peter Pan, about the boy who never grew up.

The story: Lord Aster (J.P. Welsh) has been assigned by the Queen of England to insure safe transport of a treasure chest full of “starstuff” known to give anyone who possesses it the ability to realize his or her dreams.  Aster devises a plan to ship two identical chests on two different ships by two different routes to insure safe delivery. He dispatches his daughter Molly (Casey Duffy), a Starcatcher-in-training, on the ship Never Land and he takes the trunk with the real starstuff on the Wasp. Unbeknownst to Lord Aster and Molly, the trunks are switched by pirates before the ships set sail and Never Land holds the goods.

The Never Land’s crew is actually pirates, led by Black Stache (Brett Goodnack) and in addition to the trunk with the real starstuff. The Pirates also have three orphan boys held prisoner in the bilge of the Never Land.  And so we set sail…..

The thing that makes this production so special is the group of actors, all of them are Pittsburgher’s or graduates from our universities’ theatre programs. A few are in the early stages of their acting careers; many are very experienced having played many roles in multiple companies. What makes it work so perfectly is Spencer Whale’s creative vision and direction. The actor’s comedic timing, gestures and expressions seamlessly integrate together creating an ensemble that is a joy to watch as they are having such fun performing together.

L-R Brett Goodnack, Nate Willey
L-R Brett Goodnack, Nate Willey

Pittsburgh’s brilliant comedic actor Brett Goodnack as the silly and sinister Black Stache leads the ensemble. His stage presence keeps your eyes riveted to him and a smile on your face.

Other standouts in the uniformly strong cast include Point Park graduate Nate Willey as the Boy who becomes Peter Pan. Cody Sweet’s portrayal of Molly’s nanny, Mrs. Brumbrake, captures the sweet caring woman with a beard and a twist who can raise a pirate’s flagpole. J.P. Walsh’s portrayal of Lord Aster conjures up the classic proper British explorer and caring father. Casey Duff’s Molly is an ageless girl full of hopes and dreams, eager to prove her worth and trustworthiness. The entire cast has double if not triple duty. The orphans, Prentiss and Ted, played by Jake Smith and Charles Buescher Rowell keep their characters in perfect sync as they switch back and forth.

Nate Willey and Cast
Nate Willey and Cast

Director Whale called on old friends and colleagues Nathan Mattingly and Ellen Pyne for the set design, reminiscent of ship sails and outfitted with a hoarder’s treasure trove of props, flotsam, and jetsam.  Costume Design also by Pyne is spot on. Where a dozen actors with strong physical characteristics play a hundred roles, the costuming helps us identify their character of the moment. Black Stash’s look reinforces his silly yet frightful pirate nature and Molly’s enhances her character as a young girl just transitioning to a strong young woman.

In the pit, percussionists Tony Tresky and Brendan Higgins work subtly; their background rhythms perfectly match the action without overpowering the actors.

L-R Nate Willey, Casey Duffy
L-R Nate Willey, Casey Duffy

As we were leaving the theatre, reflecting that this was one of the best shows we saw this season, I wondered how three companies had come to choose the same play to present this spring. Perhaps in troubling times, sitting together in a dark room watching silliness and wishing you never grew up is good therapy for us all.

If you haven’t seen Starcatcher yet, this production is the one to see. If you have seen Starcatcher before, by all means this production is worth a visit. Come prepared to smile till your jaw hurts, laugh till your head hurts and be sure listen carefully so you don’t miss any of the great lines.

Stage 62 presents Peter and the Starcatcher at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, 300 Beechwood Avenue, Carnegie, PA 15106

 Performances Thursday through Saturday, May 11-13 and 18-20 at 8 pm, Sun. Matinees May 14 and 21 at 2 pm Tickets: Adults: $20, Students/Seniors: $15. Click here for more information. 

Our special thanks to Stage 62 for the complimentary tickets.

Peter and the Starcatcher

Peter and the Starcatcher“We ask you now to imagine a grown cat in flight.”  This line—as a glowing scarf floated through the air while cast members created the sounds of a cat gurgling and cooing—was just one of many that had Friday night’s audience for Little Lake’s Peter and the Starcatcher howling with laughter.

Brilliantly opening Little Lake’s 69th season, Peter and the Starcatcher
provides a backstory to the century-old tale of how an unhappy orphan becomes Peter Pan- “The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up.”  The Tony-Award-winning show is a theatrical adaption of Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s best-selling novel, and the play was made for the stage by directors Roger Rees and Alex Timbers, written by Rick Elice, and includes music by Wayne Barker.

The show takes audiences on an adventure on the high seas and to the faraway Mollusk Island. It opens with the mix-up of two trunks— deliberately similar to each other in their…trunkness—each aboard one of two ships, the Wasp and the Never Land.  A young, nameless orphan and his mates, aboard the Never Land, are being shipped off from Victorian England to a distant island ruled by the evil King Zarboff. They know nothing of the mysterious trunk on board, but upon their meeting of a bright, young girl named Molly—a starcatcher in training—they learn that the trunk contains a precious, otherworldly cargo called starstuff—a celestial substance so powerful that it must never fall into the wrong hands.

op row: Andy Coleman, Bill Lyon, Carly DeCock, Art DeConciliis Middle row: Jeff Johnston, Eric Mathews, Tom Protulipac, Nick Staso Bottom row: John Herrmann
Top row: Andy Coleman, Bill Lyon, Carly DeCock, Art DeConciliis Middle row: Jeff Johnston, Eric Mathews, Tom Protulipac, Nick Staso Bottom row: John Herrmann

Meanwhile aboard the Wasp, Lord Aster—Molly’s father—is unaware of the mix-up and encounters the fearsome pirate Black Stache, his sidekick Smee, and a pirate crew as they learn that the wrong trunk is aboard the ship they have pirated.  The enchanting villain Black Stache is determined to claim the trunk and its treasure for his own, and they quickly change course to take over the Never Land and find the precious trunk filled with starstuff.

While on the Never Land, both the orphan boy—who is soon given the name Peter—and Molly become close as they take on the Wasp’s Slank and other various villains while trying to keep the starstuff out of the wrong hands. The Never Land eventually shipwrecks, Molly saves Peter from death, and together they fly to an unknown island.

The shipwreck leads them to a mysterious island—Mollusk Island—and Molly is kidnapped by Slank. Peter saves her from him, along with the help of Prentiss and Ted.  The story ends with Molly and Peter saying goodbye to each other, and with Peter promising to visit her in England. Molly and her father return to the real world, while Peter and the Lost Boys remain on Mollusk Island, which they rename Neverland, the name of the ship that was shipwrecked.

(clockwise from top) Nick Staso as Prentiss, Carly DeCock as Molly, James Curry as Peter and Max Andrae as Teddy
(clockwise from top) Nick Staso as Prentiss, Carly DeCock as Molly, James Curry as Peter and Max Andrae as Teddy

The show, featuring just a dozen actors who portray more than 100 unforgettable characters, is a thrilling adventure that keeps audiences on their toes from start to finish.  Little Lake’s production was directed and choreographed by Jena Oberg, and musical direction was provided by Holly Jones.

Overall, the show’s set was modest but made creative use of simple materials like ropes and wooden boards to simulate different settings including various parts of a ship, and blue aerial silks and ladders to simulate underwater scenes.

The cast was nothing short of stellar as they portrayed their larger than life characters.  Smee, played by Andy Coleman, stole the show as his expression, delivery and naturally humorous disposition had the audience in stiches from his very first line.  Black Stache, played by Bill Lyon, was also an audience favorite as he eccentrically delivered his cleverly written lines while incorporating today’s culture and entertaining sayings into the script—so much so, that it was at times hard for his castmates to stay in character and keep a straight face.  Another notable comedic performance was given by Slank, played by Tom Protulipac, who also embodied the pouty Hawking Clam on Mollusk Island.

James Curry, in his portrayal of Boy (Peter), delivered a strong dramatic performance with charming good looks and an expressive face.  There was an instant spark and connection when he locked eyes with Molly, played by Carly DeCock, for the first time.  It was this connection that had audiences in tears, amid their laughter, at the end of the show.  DeCock’s acting fit the character perfectly and was top notch for a young woman of her age, though—as this was a musical, even though there was a great deal more dialogue than music in the show—her singing voice was not quite as strong, and was often engulfed and lost amid the booming bass voices of the nearly all male cast.  A particularly stand-out vocal was provided by John Herrmann, who portrayed Aft with a cutting tenor instrument that could be heard loud and clear from any corner of the room.

(left to right) Andy Coleman as Smee and Bill Lyon as Black Stache
(left to right) Andy Coleman as Smee and Bill Lyon as Black Stache

Though the entire evening provided the audience with captivating entertainment, it is without a doubt that the audience’s favorite scene was the opening of act two, when—in vaudevillian song—nearly the entire cast portrayed a group of underwater mermaids that recall their experience of being transformed from regular fish after swimming in the wake of the starstuff.  The audience was so overcome with howling laughter that, at one point, it became difficult to hear the mermaids’ song!

The cast and crew received a standing ovation from a nearly sold-out house for their spectacular performances, and it was obvious that audiences enjoyed an imaginative evening filled with laughter and tears.  This captivating performance will be on the Little Lake stage on weekends through May 13- so don’t miss your chance to see this highly-recommended show!

Special thanks to Little Lake Theatre for complimentary press tickets. Peter and the Starcatcher runs through May 13, for tickets and more information click here. 

Photos courtesy of James Orr.

Little Lake Prepares for a Paramount 69th Season!

little-lake-logoIn this year’s 69th season, Little Lake Theatre Company is ready to delight audiences with incredible local talent. Since its founding in the spring of 1949 by Edith Disney and her son Will, Little Lake has been a theatrical gem to the many communities that surround Pittsburgh.  Once just an old barn on the side of a lake in Washington County, Little Lake transformed into the area’s first theatre-in-the-round, and has since featured more than 1,700 local actors and 1,200 productions on the local stage.

From exploring the days before Peter Pan and his lost boys captured the hearts of many to asking the audience a popular board game’s question of “Who did it?”- this season of musicals, comedies, dramas, children’s theater and more will not disappoint.

For more information about Little Lake’s 69th season and the shows listed below, visit

PETER AND THE STARCATCHERPeter and the Starcatcher

April 27 through 29 at 8 p.m.

April 30 at 2 p.m.

May 4 through 6 at 8 p.m.

May 7 at 2 p.m.

May 11 through 13 at 8 p.m.

In Peter and the Starcatcher, audiences will embark on the adventure of a lifetime.  The play is based on the 2006 novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, and was adapted for the stage by Rick Elice.  The prequel to J.M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy, this play will delight audiences by providing a backstory to the beloved character of Peter Pan.

“Little Lake is thrilled to be doing Peter and the Starcatcher as our 69th season opener,” says Jena Oberg, Artistic Director at Little Lake and the show’s director.  Musical direction will be provided by Holly Jones. “We selected Peter and the Starcatcher for its humor, creativity, emphasis on storytelling, and its message that anyone can be a hero.”

This show, perfect for all ages, is sure to provide a great night out for the whole family.  The cast will transform themselves and the space to create a thrilling adventure.  Everyday items will become pirate ships, crocodiles, tropical jungles, and more, and Little Lake provides the perfect playground as the theater-in-the-round setting allows audiences to feel as if they are a part of the worlds that are being created around them.  Aerial silks, ladders, ropes, shadows, lighting, and many more special effects are sure to dazzle anyone taking part in this adventure.


May 18 through 20 at 8 p.m.

May 25 through 27 at 8 p.m.

May 28 at 2 p.m.

June 1 through 3 at 8 p.m.

The Philadelpha Story is a beloved classic that is a favorite among Little Lake audiences and has been performed and well-received several times at the local theater.  The 1939 American comic play by Philip Barry tells the story of Tracy Lord, Philadelphia’s most eligible socialite, as she finds herself facing complications prior to her wedding in being attracted to multiple men- to the dismay of her fiancé.

Directed by Lora Oxenreiter, this play is perfect for ages 10 and up and will leave audiences asking, “who will Tracy choose?” in this sparkling comedy.


June 8 through 10 at 8 p.m.

June 15 through 17 at 8 p.m.

June 18 at 2 p.m.

June 22 through 24 at 8 p.m.

In a more mature setting, David Auburn’s play Proof will come to life on the Little Lake stage in June.  Best for ages 15 and up, as the show contains adult language, this play tells the story of Catherine, the daughter of Robert who is a recently deceased mathematical genius in his 50s and a professor at the University of Chicago, as she struggles with mathematical genius and mental illness.  When game changing proof is discovered, Catherine must face the biggest problem of all: how much of her father’s genius-or madness- has she inherited?

The play will be directed by Art DeConciliis and was selected because “it is an incredibly well-written view of genius,” says Oberg.  “In this 2001 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play, the characters and relationships are beautifully complex.”

RAPUNZEL (A World Premiere)

June 14 through July 1 – Wednesdays at 11 a.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 2 p.m.

When a bit of fairy tale magic backfires, Rapunzel tumbles into an adventure that includes a preposterous Count, an impossibly tall tower and discovery of extraordinary courage in this world premiere production.

This brand-new adaption of the popular fairy tale was written by Little Lake’s former artistic director, Sunny Disney Fitchett, who is now a children’s theater playwright in the state of California.  “Little Lake is beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to produce the world premiere of this play,” says Oberg.  “It is a fun, new twist on the classic story, where Rapunzel uses her smarts and courage to save herself from the tower.”

The show will be directed by Mary Meyer and is part of Little Lake’s Summer Looking Glass Theatre season for Young Audiences.  Anyone ages 3 and up will be sure to fall in love with this version of the timeless tale.


June 29 through July 1 at 8 p.m.

July 6 through 8 at 8 p.m.

July 9 at 2 p.m.

July 13 through 15 at 8 p.m.


This hilarious farce of mistaken identity tells the story of the bumbling, but charming character Francis as he finds himself simultaneously employed by two bosses.  This play by Richard Bean is an English adaption of Il servitor di due padroni– a 1743 commedia dell’arte style play by Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni- and featured the popular late night host James Corden during its Broadway run.

Under the direction of TJ Fineno, this show is best for audience members ages 15 and up.  Fineno will be returning to Little Lake for a month’s time from Texas to direct this crazy comedy.  “TJ is particularly skilled in farce, and so this play was a perfect fit for him,” says Oberg.  “Also, audiences at Little Lake love farces- and this one will feature live music and high energy fun!”


July 5 through 22- Wednesdays at 11 a.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 2 p.m.

Fantastic Mr. Fox is an imaginative and creative adaption of the Roald Dahl classic.  Audiences follow Mr. Fox as he cleverly outwits three smelly, horrid farmers to save his family and friends in this “Dahl”icious play.

The show will be directed by John Michnya and plans to feature puppets in addition to scenic elements based on the original illustrations and elaborate costuming that will create the world of Dahl’s story.  Part of Little Lake’s Summer Looking Glass Theater season for Young Audiences, this show is perfect for ages 3 and up, and will feature the talent of young actors from the surrounding area.


July 20 through 22 at 8 p.m.

July 27 through 29 at 8 p.m.

July 30 at 2 p.m.

August 3 through 5 at 8 p.m.

On a hilarious journey of self-discovery, Cass teams up with some unlikely sidekicks in what become a wild ride over Niagara Falls in a barrel full of laughs in the play Wonder of the World.  This play, written by American playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, premiered at the Woolly Mammoth Theater Company in 2000 and then ran Off-Broadway in 2001.

Little Lake’s production will be directed by Jena Oberg and is best suited for ages 15 and up, as the show contains adult language.  “This play has always been one of my favorites,” says Oberg.  “It is hilariously funny and absurdly uplifting.  I really think our audiences are doing to love this one and leave the theater feeling just a little bit more optimistic about the future.”


July 26 through August 12- Wednesdays at 11 a.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 2 p.m.

Let’s get ready to rock! Based on the popular, award-winning 1970s cartoons, Schoolhouse Rock Live!, Jr. is a fast past musical that teaches lessons with clever, catchy tunes and is a one-hour version of the full musical. Follow new teacher Tom as he learns how to win over his students with imagination and music.

The show will be directed by James Critchfield, with musical direction by Holly Jones.  The musical is part of Little Lake’s Summer Looking Glass Theatre season for Young Audiences- perfect for ages 3 and up- and is full of songs that many adults may remember from their childhood.

“We think it’s a perfect back-to-school treat for our young audiences, as cast members sing and dance to musical numbers about basic math, language, and history concepts,” says Oberg.  The cast for this show will all be under the age of 18, showcasing the amazing talent of the young actors that grace the Little Lake stage.


August 10 through 12 at 8 p.m.

August 17 through 19 at 8 p.m.

August 20 at 2 p.m.

August 24 through 26 at 8 p.m.

Glimpse into the secret weekly audiences between Queen Elizabeth II and her twelve Prime Ministers during some of England’s most defining moments in Little Lake’s production of The Audience.

Directed by Ponny Conomos Jahn, this show is best for ages 13 and up and is a fascinating look at the modern monarchy and relationship between the Queen and her Prime Ministers.  The play, written by British playwright and screenwriter Peter Morgan, opened on Broadway in 2015 and featured Dame Helen Mirren.

Audiences will have the opportunity to be a fly on the wall for conversations regarding some of the major events in history.  Fans of the popular television show “The Crown” are especially sure to love this production, as its plot feeds into the current fascination with the Royal Family.


(An Area Premiere)

August 31 through September 2 at 8 p.m.

September 7 through 9 at 8 p.m.

September 10 at 2 p.m.

September 14 through 16 at 8 p.m.

As a wiz-kid author and theatre producer endeavor to write the next comic masterpiece, the line between comedy and drama is found to be much narrower- and sillier- than you’d think!

This newly published play by Robert Caisley will be a regional premiere at Little Lake and was suggested to the artistic staff by a patron who saw a production of the show at a theater in the state of California.  “Once we read it, we know it was perfect for Little Lake,” says Oberg.  As an added bonus, communication with the playwright will last throughout the production- giving Little Lake a true view into the artist’s creative mind and desires for his piece.  “It’s truly exciting to have Robert Caisley on board as a resource when working on his very show,” says Oberg.

A Masterpiece of Comic…Timing will be directed by James Critchfield and is perfect for ages 15 and up.



September 21 through 23 at 8 p.m.

September 28 through 30 at 8 p.m.

October 5 through 7 at 8 p.m.


A deeply moving and funny play, Middletown explores the universe of a small American town.  As a friendship develops between longtime resident John Dodge and new arrival to the town Mary Swanson, the lives of the residents of Middletown intersect in a journey that takes them from the local library to outer space and all points between.

The Off-Brodway play written by Will Eno has been hailed as “a testament to the power of words and wordplay” by the Chicago Sun Times.  “The worlds Eno creates are shaped by the cadence, timing and positioning of words to tell stories about the everyday.  In his absurdist, abstract drama, Eno offers up an old-fashioned version of small-town life that is familiar, but with a title to the surreal.”

Little Lake’s production will be directed by Ponny Conomos Jahn and is best for ages 13 and up.  “This play is really an artistic piece,” says Oberg.  “It is poetic in the way it is written and is really a cross-section of the complexities, joys, and mysteries of modern life.”


September 30 at 2 p.m. October 1, 7, 14, 15, 21, 22 and 28 at 2 p.m.

First-grade couldn’t be more exciting with a new pair of glasses, a kickball tournament, a “top-secret personal beeswax journal,” and much more!  Best for ages 5 and up and part of Little Lake’s Fall Family Matinee series, June B. Jones, The Musical is based on one of the best loved book series of all time.

“We are delighted to be bringing this fun and energetic musical to our stage,” says Oberg.  “It celebrated being unique and discovering the things that makes each kid special.”

This show will be directed by Sara Barbisch, with musical direction by Holly Jones.


October 12 through 14 at 8 p.m.

October 19 through 21 at 8 p.m.

October 26 through 28 at 8 p.m.

The question is… “Who did it?”  Clue- the popular board game- will spring to life in this uproariously funny and interactive musical.  Each night, the audience will actually play the game and the show will change based on the different cards drawn by the night’s participants.  The actors that will bring this show to life will learn 120 possible variations of the script to provide a completely unique experience each show.  The show features all of the timeless board game characters, and the Little Lake stage will be painted to look like the game board, as poster-sized game cards are created.

With a book by Peter DePietro, music by Galen Blum, Wayne Barker and Vinnie Martucci, and lyrics by Tom Chiodo, this show originally opened Off-Broadway at the Players Theater on December 3, 1997.

Little Lake’s production will be directed by Art DeConciliis, with musical direction by Laura Daniels and is ideal for ages 15 and up.


November 2 through 4 at 8 p.m.

November 9 through 11 at 8 p.m.

November 16 through 18 at 8 p.m.



Salem, Massachusetts is ablaze with accusations of witchcraft in this exciting drama, still astoundingly relevant today.  A 1953 play by American playwright Arthur Miller, The Crucible is a dramatized and partially fictionalized story of the Salem witch trials that took place in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Harshly reviewed at the time of its premiere due to its controversial nature, the play won the 1953 Tony Award for Best Play, and a year later a new production paved the way for the classic that is regarded as a central work in the canon of American drama today.

The Crucible will be directed by Jena Oberg, is appropriate for ages 13 and up, and will feature two performances for school groups during its run at Little Lake.  “The Crucible seemed like a timely parable for the struggles contemporary society is facing,” says Oberg.  “Our production will use percussion and dancing to create the mood and play transitions as performed by the actors playing Tituba and other girls.”


November 24 and 25 at 8 p.m. December 2, 3, 9, 10, 16 and 17 at 2 p.m.

This feel-good, family musical is inspired by one of the most famous newspaper editorials of all time: “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

With music by Wesley Whatley, lyrics by William Schermerhorn, and a book adapted by William Schermerhorn from the animated special and storybook by Chris Plehal, Yes Virginia! perfectly captures the holiday spirit and is a great show for the whole family to attend right before the bustling, beautiful Christmas season begins.

The show will be directed by Rick Campbell, with musical direction by Holly Jones.  Little Lake will also provide a letter writing station at each performance, giving young ones the opportunity to write their own letters and mail them out to Santa Claus before the big day.


November 30 through December 2 at 8 p.m.

December 7 through 9 at 8 p.m.

December 14 through 16 at 8 p.m.

Celebrate Christmas with the good folks of Tuna, Texas in this hootin’, hollerin’, laugh-out-loud, smash hit comedy.  Wrapping up Little Lake’s 69th season, this show will be a restaged version of Sunny Disney Fitchett’s and Art DeConciliis’ previously performed production.

The show will feature Kevin Bass and Art DeConciliis, as they play all the characters of Tuna, Texas!  “This is the most requested play at Little Lake of all time!” exclaims Oberg.  “We are delighted to be bringing it back again this season.  It has become a favorite holiday tradition.”

Other Season Offerings:


In addition to a jam-packed season of theatrical fun, Little Lake will offer seven weeks of summer camps for kids this year including an Improv Camp, Be A Star Camp, Acting Camp (two sessions), Behind the Scenes Camp, Musical Theater Camp (two sessions), and Teen Camp.  These great offerings will help kids hone their skills and take their acting to the next level.  For more information or to sign up, visit


Adults can have some extra fun, too!  Two new classes, Improv for Adults and I Can Do That Too!, will be offered in the evenings for adults, ages 18 and up.  Laugh, play, build your skills, and take your acting to the next level. For more information or to enroll, visit

Peter and the Starcatcher

17620182_1831228916903076_1273660694744146106_oHow does one continue the timeless story of a boy who never grows up?

Steven Spielberg’s Hook notwithstanding, the obvious answer to that question is to explore his past.

And that’s just what Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson did in the 2006 YA novel Peter and the Starcatcher. Their incredible success with the book series (surely due to their respect for the incredibly rich source material) led playwright Rick Elice to adapt their work into a charmingly meta and humorous stage play of the same name. Since its 2009 premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse, Starcatcher has wowed New York and national audiences with the wit of its craftsmanship and the universality of its themes.

Pitt Stages’s current production, docked at the Charity Randall Theater, may torpedo Wayne Barker’s musical score but it undoubtedly soars straight on ‘til morning in almost every other aspect.

Before the green getup—in the 1885 British Empire—Peter Pan had no home and no name. Still reeling from a traumatizing stint in an orphanage, the Boy once again finds himself trapped by circumstance. This time, he’s a prisoner on a ship called Neverland with his two best friends, Ted and Prentiss. Little do they know that, above deck, the ship’s captain Bill Slank has masterminded a devious switcheroo that mistakenly lands a great treasure on his vessel rather than on the majestic Wasp.

This is good news for no one. Not for Lord Aster who was tasked by the Queen herself (God save her!) to protect the mysterious and mystical “starstuff” that lies within the treasure chest. Not for the bumbling band of pirates, led by the silly and sinister Black Stache, who commandeer the Wasp to steal the treasure.

As a starcatcher-in-training working to safeguard the power of starstuff (the ability to realize the dreams of anyone who possesses it), Aster’s young, confident, and wildly adventurous daughter Molly takes it upon herself to complete her father’s mission. After she ditches her shrieking governess Mrs. Bumbrake, Molly begins to explore the ship. There are horrors and delights aplenty aboard the Neverland but nothing like the company of her peers, alike in age and disposition. Jockeying for leadership of the team all the while, the lost boys and Molly work together to thwart Black Stache’s dastardly plans.

Eventually, the stage is set for J.M. Barrie’s classic tale to play out. But a litany of unexpected starboard and port twists and turns will leave you and our heroes on the edge of the plank throughout.

While the magical exploits of the Aster family are dazzling, I strongly believe that the real starcatcher at the center of this production is director Kathryn Markey. She has assembled a spirited crew of actors brimming with talent and infectious enthusiasm. It’s rare to see performers clearly having so much fun while expertly navigating such intricate design and staging.

Imagine my surprise when I perused my playbill and found out that several members of the diverse 19-person ensemble were making their Pitt Stages acting debuts. That’s proof that these actors aren’t just stars on the rise, but also shooting stars.

Brightest among them are Tanner Prime, Molly Balk, and Dennis Schebetta. Like the play, their performances truly set sail in Act II. Prime’s adorable pluckiness and vulnerability make his character’s wish to never grow up seem like something we should all aspire to. As the Boy’s most colorful adversaries, Fighting Prawn and Black Stache, Balk and Schebetta showcase their unmatched charisma and sense of comedic timing.

Zachary Romah, Sabrina Rothschild, Alex Knapp, and Sean Gallagher also shine as pairs of Lost Boys and unlikely lovers, respectively.

In addition to crafting a versatile landscape evoking equal parts childlike wonder and workmanlike grit, scenic designer Gianni Downs should also be credited with providing Markey a lively canvas on which to paint her various thrilling stage pictures. Their work goes hand in hand—more like hand in rope, in this case—during all the show’s most action-packed moments. Markey channels the inherent whimsy of Starcatcher most potently when she seamlessly transforms her actors into doors, animals, and crashing ocean waves. Downs’s creative combination of hand-painted and hand-built pieces more than live up to Donyale Werle’s Tony-winning Broadway sets.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the sound design by Tyler Bensen or the costume design by KJ Gilmer. Both are plagued by a troubling sameness. It’s a problem when you can close your eyes and not be sure if you’re listening to the hiss of an angry housecat or the growl of a hungry crocodile. It’s a bigger problem when the iconic swashbuckling style of the man who will become Captain Hook is watered down to the point of resembling poor Captain Jack Sparrow cosplay.

Still, there is tons to admire in Pitt Stages’s Peter and the Starcatcher. Growing up doesn’t seem so bad if it means just aging the two and half hours of this energetic and touching production’s runtime. Believe me and fly your way over to the theater.

Peter and the Starcatcher runs through April 9th at the Charity Randall Theater. For more information, click here.

Thank you to Pitt Stages for the complimentary tickets.



Stage 62 Goes to Camelot, Neverland, and More!

stage62_logoCommunity. This is the word that best characterizes a local nonprofit theater company that traces its inception back to 1962, when it began as an adult education theater project that morphed into much more. Taking residence at Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, Stage 62 is an all volunteer-run company that strives to provide the community with quality theater for all ages that is affordable.    This year’s season will feature the plays, “Peter and the Starcatcher,” “Monty Python’s SPAMALOT” and “Anne.” The children’s musical, “Pinkalicious” was also part of the company’s season but closed in mid-February.

This year’s season will feature the plays, “Peter and the Starcatcher,” “Monty Python’s SPAMALOT” and “Anne.” The children’s musical, “Pinkalicious” was also part of the company’s season but closed in mid-February.

A typical season for Stage 62 usually includes a musical in November; a show for children’s audiences in February; a drama/comedy in May and a musical peterstarcatcher300x300in July, according to the company’s website. However, Stage 62’s members play a huge role in the selection of production titles.

“We are completely member-driven, so our membership actually gets to vote on the productions that we do,” Christopher Martin, president of Stage 62 said. “We look for submissions from our group and outside our group. …We take those specific shows to our playwriting committee, and they decide what they think will be best for the organization. [They choose] two shows per slot and vote from there.”

Because volunteers are the backbone of Stage 62, cost and the interest it will attract from the community also heavily influences the selection of production titles.spamalot300x300

“We have to balance what we think will make money and what will be exciting and engaging for our audiences and volunteers,” Martin said.
The members of Stage 62 also try to choose show titles that the company’s volunteers and directors have an interest in producing.

“We sometimes would have something picked but not have someone who had a passion to do the show,” Martin said. “We always try to have a core staff or director in mind for the show.”

Once a season has been narrowed down and show titles have been selected, the artistic direction and vision for the production and how it will be interpreted, is left up to the director.

annie300x300Stage 62’s upcoming production, “Peter and the Starcatcher” is based on a novel by Dave Berry and Ridley Pearson and provides the back story of the well-known children’s movie character, Peter Pan.

“One of the reasons we like the show is it is simple,” Martin said. “A lot of it is done with simple props and imagination.”

For its summer show, Stage 62 likes to put on a “fun-rousing” musical, and that’s where “Monty Python’s SPAMALOT” comes in, a musical comedy  adapted from the 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” Goofy comedies tend to equal success for Stage 62, according to Martin, and the Monty Python title the company selected for this season fits the bill.

For the fall, Stage 62 typically selects a classic film, and “Annie” is about as classic as it gets. With the permission of The Tribune Media Services, Inc., the musical “Annie” is based on the comic strip Little Orphan Annie and will be presented through a special arrangement with Music Theatre International.
Stage 62 has a reputation of providing audiences with stage productions that are well-executed, interesting and fun and accessible to the broader public, and that’s exactly what you will get with the company’s 2017 season lineup.
“Peter and the Starcatcher” opens May 11 and runs through the 21st, followed by “Monty Python’s SPAMALOT,” which premieres July 20, and “Annie,” set for November 9.

For tickets and more information about Stage 62, visit their website,

Pitt Stages Creates New and Familiar Realities in Resilient Spaces

11828704_1192185537474087_3254483807827457516_nInspired by success and tradition, Pitt Stages launches a season that reflects the aspirations of the University of Pittsburgh’s diverse student body beginning on October 6. The production menu for 2016-17 showcases the performance and technical talents of both students enrolled in the Department of Theatre Arts and others who are exploring theater as part of their broader liberal arts experience. Students from more than 22 majors throughout the university take part in Pitt Stages productions.

“More students are choosing Pitt as a destination for theatre,” says Annemarie Duggan, now in her 10th year on the faculty and beginning her fourth year as chair. “We had a petition from 250 students to stage more musicals,” explaining why more musicals are showing up in the Pitt Stages performance season, complete with orchestral accompaniment through frequent collaborations with the Department of Music.

“We give the students with diverse backgrounds a foundation in theater,” says Duggan, herself a seasoned lighting designer. “Pitt students are prepared to do theater and for the world as well.” She is excited to see the practical aspects of theater showcased in students’ academic work, such as student projects for Pitt’s Honors College.

Both academic and production endeavors are literally at the heart of Pitt’s Oakland campus with classrooms, labs, shops, and Studio Theatre in the Cathedral of Learning and performances spaces in the venerable Stephen Foster Memorial. Pitt’s connected facilities boast architecture and a very presence unlike other higher education buildings in this region.

Promotional photo from last season's production of Nine
Promotional photo from last season’s production of Nine

The Department of Theatre Arts is steward of two theaters in the Foster Memorial, built in 1937. The Charity Randall Theatre was renamed and restored during Pitt’s early 21st century capital campaign after being home for Theatre Arts since the 1960s. Named for retired faculty scenic designer and costumer Henry Heymann, the lower level thrust theater provides an intimate setting for selected season events. Upgrades and maintenance is ongoing as productions require more state-of-the-art technical features (such as a new projector system, says Duggan) while the auditorium itself was built as a musical concert hall honoring Stephen Collins Foster, one of Pittsburgh’s most popular composers. Now the Randall is home for the larger Pitt Stages musical theater productions.

Appropriately, “we distinguish ourselves in a different way than a conservatory,” says Duggan of the liberal arts tradition that enables any student to audition and get involved on stage or behind the scenes at Pitt. “Student can explore their talent here. And they can see the work of their counterparts at the nearby conservatories. We show them that their talent is equal and they may use and go in different direction.”

It’s not surprising given Pitt’s history of theatrical performances actually stretch back two centuries to around 1810. Theatre Arts has carried the torch of the Commonwealth’s only Ph.D. program in theater and birthed many innovations in Pittsburgh performing arts, including the 16-year run of the Three Rivers Shakespeare Festival and countless student-led endeavors. Where else could inspired students stage King Lear in the loading dock of a 42-story Gothic skyscraper or alumni take theater education into career work as ranging from television to the  FBI?

It’s about striking a balance says Duggan, “between budget and pedagogically what we are teaching in a given year, with what we are  teaching in the classrooms…Our production values to move the students forward through what we can do really well…while it might be stretch what these these young performers can do well.”

Now, Pitt Stages has another season of productions in store–open again to both campus and public theater-goers. “Our audiences are also investing in the artists of the future,” Duggan adds.

The slate, says Duggan are “diverse stories told in universal ways,” drawing on the characteristics that make Pitt’s student body so vibrant and varied. Each director brings unique specialities and experience to their work, further enriching the potential for both the student production company and audiences. She describes the program as “a really enriching experience for everyone” as the Theatre Arts strives to be an open and inclusive department within the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences.Slide1(1)

Intimate Apparel by Lynn Nottage opens the season, October 6-16, the first of three season offerings staged in the comfortably cozy Henry Heymann Theatre. Costume professor KJ Gilmer makes “a sort of directing debut for us,” says Duggan, an appropriate assignment for a play about a seamstress performed in a space named for one of Pitt Theatre’s legendary designers. All things are not equal, however, as the central character Esther, a black seamstress makes intimate apparel for both wealthy white women and poor prostitutes. This intimate story of a woman trying to survive in 1905 in New York City echoes the timeless realities woven into society’s fabric. Pitt Stages asks: “Can Esther refashion her dreams and make them anew from the whole cloth of her life’s experiences?” Expect a lot of, well, intimate apparel, further costume-building experience for student designers.Slide1

Hair, the iconic 1960’s show subtitled “The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical”, takes the Charity Randall Theatre stage, November 10-20, under the direction of Cynthia Croot with musical direction by Robert Frankenberry. The counterculture and the establishment collide in this ever’ timely and hit-filled musical, premiered the peak of the Vietnam War in 1967 and revived to acclaim on Broadway in 2008. Hold on to your love beads and get ready to “Be In” as “The Age of Aquarius” is back.Spellingbee3-FIN

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee fills the Heymann Theatre, February 9-19, with the inevitable hilarity of some of the most unusual words you don’t know how to spell and unforgettably zany competitive spellers–including some very special guests with a director to be announced. Robert Frankenberry directs Rachel Sheinkin’s musical comedy, a rollicking content conceived by Rebecca Feldman. William Flinn’s music and lyrics sent the show and its spellers to a successful a three-year Broadway run. So, can you use “syzygy” in a sentence? Pitt Stages wants to know!Baltimore 8.5x5.5 2nd[2]

Baltimore brings the realities of racism on a campus home to the Heymann March 29-April 29, in this compelling drama directed by Ricardo Vila-Roger Roger. The voices of eight college students speak for many in Kirsten Greenidge’s acclaimed script as her central character, a well-intentioned resident advisor, grapples with her own perceptions about our diversity and differences. Holding a mirror to our times, Baltimore promises a conversation-provoking journey.Starcatcher_FIN

Peter and the Starcatcher directs audiences past the second star to the right and straight on to morning for a prequel to J.M. Barrie’s beloved Peter Pan and his adventures in Neverland. Expect all things British and imaginative from Rick Elice’s popular adaptation of the 2006 Dave Berry-Ridley Pearson novel, told with Wayne Barker’s acclaimed music score. Meet Molly (the spunky original girl from London), see pirate Smee disguised a mermaid, and just…never never grow up. Catch Pitt Stage’s closing show (director tba) in the Charity Randall Theatre, March 30-April 9.

At Pitt, there’s always more to explore with six innovative student lab productions in the recently restored Studio Theatre, at the heart of students’  production experience. Here students try out their directing and design talents and often step on stage for the first time. Chances are, you’ve seen Pittsburgh directors, designers, and actors who stars have risen from this intimate space in the basement of the Cathedral of Learning. From October 2016 through March 2017, look for these chances to experience intriguing plays in the city’s most venerable flexible black box space:

Aglaonike’s Tiger by Claudia Brewster, directed by Shelby Brewster

Water Eyes by Leenie Baker, directed by Louis Markowitz

The Most Massive Woman Wins by Madeleine George, directed by Hayley Ulmer

Haiku by Kate Snodgrass, directed by Shiri Goldis

I Can’t Go On/I’ll Go On by Samuel Beckett, directed by Nic Barilar

Charm by Kathleen Cahill, directed by Andrea Gunoe

Pitt Stages continues to foreshadow more good things from Theatre Arts when continued faculty development and student innovation is supported by ongoing facility and production enhancement. “It’s a win for everyone,” says Duggan, who looks forward to even more surprises from students who consider theater part of their total education. Like them, she anticipates returning the classroom and the theater, “so excited to be a part of this scholarly aspects of this practice.”

And in more practical terms, Duggan reminds this Pitt Theater Arts alumna that “theater teaches you that there is a due date!”

Pitt Stages subscriptions and tickets are on sale online with discounts for University of Pittsburgh faculty and staff. The season begins on October 6 with its final performance on April 9. Follow all ongoing Theatre Arts news and events at

Read more about how Pitt Theatre Arts and others at University of Pittsburgh explore “pracadamics” in Becoming a Pracademic, by Tom Pacio, 2010 MFA graduate.

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