Chattanooga theatregoers saw first-hand Friday night the trajectory that new Chattanooga Theatre Centre (CTC) executive director Todd Olson is bound. Aiming for the stars, Olson welcomed an audience thirsty for light, airy summer fare, and his troupe of CTC thespians did not disappoint.
Under the direction of Scott Dunlap and Beth Gumnick, the CTC launched a production Friday of “Peter and The Starcatcher,” a 2011 play by Rick Elice adapted from an earlier novel penned by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. The production runs through July 30.
The play, fanciful, farcical and downright fun, tells the story of a nameless and emotionally thwarted orphan boy and his comrades who are kidnapped and foisted onto the second-rate English cargo ship “Never Land” in 1885, bound for slavery in the foreign kingdom of Rundoon.
Following the tumult and travail of the ill-fated voyage, the boy with the baggage finds his identity when a mermaid entices him to bathe in the syrupy, supernatural waters of an island grotto. Emerging from the iridescent soup, the mermaid dubs the orphan boy Peter Pan--portrayed sensitively in this production by James Ogden--and the subject of this light-hearted prequel learns he can fly.
But, too, the magical plasma from the lagoon has sentenced him to an eternity of boyhood hijinks and juvenile mishaps in exile from Molly Aster, the daughter of a newly-minted aristocrat and the lone girl passenger aboard “Never Land” with whom Peter has fallen in love.
Boundless energy, wit and impeccable timing are the mainstays of this cast of 12, who combined portray nearly 100 characters through the course of the show. Anchored by Scott Shaw, who was flawless as the refined and deliciously effeminate villain “Black Stache,” and Madeline Brashier, the adorably well-mannered and stiff-lipped British “Molly Aster,” the symbiotic timing of this collective cast ferried the audience through an enjoyable evening that ushered-in one boisterous horse-laugh after another.
Sixteen-year CTC stage veteran John Echols’ offering as Mrs. Bumbrake, Molly’s hilariously stark and romantically repressed nanny, was of especial…rarity. In addition, Echols portrays the 12-foot-long mermaid who coaxes Peter to swim in the magical pool, bestowing upon him confidence and eternal youth, but, ultimately, dooming him to estrangement from his one true love, Molly.
Echols, known locally for his roles as the Scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz,” Spoon in “Beauty and The Beast,” and Avram in “Fiddler on The Roof,” also served as musical director for this production, playing an often times rolling piano across the stage, while simultaneously singing, dancing, playing percussions, and changing headdresses.
Greg Rambin as Smee and Jason Russell as Grempkin are two standouts in this production, as well. Rambin’s comic timing was unparalleled, and Russell’s menacing Grempkin is an essential piece to this production’s success.
Essential, too, to all successful productions are the set design and the costuming. The late Victorian costumes in this production were exquisitely executed by CTC veteran costumer and Children’s Theatre director, Scott Dunlap. The set, conjuring the deck of a 19th-century frigate replete with a spiral staircase, and floating set of stairs utilized in several well-choreographed numbers, was striking in that the full depth of the stage was employed to offer a larger-than-usual experience for theatregoers. Thanks to the set design of Sarah Miecielica, magic was palpable Friday night on the CTC’s mainstage.
“Peter and The Starcatcher”
Directed by Scott Dunlap and Beth Gunmick; Stage Manager, Angie Griffin; Assistant Stage Manager, Julia Wyant; Scenic Design, Sarah Miecielica; Costume Designe, Scott Dunlap; Sound Design, Gary May; Musical Director, John Echols; Lighting Design, Bill Banks. Performed on the Chattanooga Theatre Centre’s Mainstage at 400 River Street, Chattanooga, 37405. For tickets, call the box office at (423) 267-8534. The production runs Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through June 30.
WITH: Chris Barr (Lord Aster), Madeline Brashier (Molly), Jeremy Campbell (Captain Scott), John Echols (Mrs. Bumbrake/Teacher), Joshua Harrell (Ted), Stacy Helton (Alf), Trevor Miles (Slank/Hawking Clam), James Ogden (Boy), Jason Russell (Grempkin/Mack/Sanches/Fighting Prawn), Greg Rambin, Sr. (Smee), Scott Shaw, (Black Stache), and Nathan Tullos (Prentiss).