For any theatre company, somewhere between picking and promoting a season of shows and opening night, a production is born. For the cast of “Peter and the Starcatcher,” soon to be onstage at Musicalfare, this means perfecting British, Scottish or pirate accents, finding their Zen in multiple roles, and learning how to be water. As in waves upon the ocean. In a raging storm. Using fabric. As director Chris Kelly said to his aqua-actors during rehearsal, “make it flow, and sweep you up…”
It’s all part of the infamy, calamity, fraternity of this musical that tells the story of how Peter Pan (the character, the boy who won’t grow up) came to be and the enchanted island that is Neverland. For Musicalfare, this is a regional premiere and the perfect showcase for the comedic and musical expertise of some of the region’s finest actors.
Director Chris Kelly is working with a cast of 12 who all play multiple roles. Many roles. Even cross-gender roles. For Kelly, “that’s the theatre I love,” he says. “What really excites me is ensemble driven theatre, where the audience has to use their imagination. That’s the theatre I find really exciting.”
Watching Kelly direct his cast – in the upstairs rehearsal studio with music director Phil Farugia at the piano and only a rendering of the set for visual inspiration – you can see this emerge. Some actors are off book, some aren’t and, they’re pacing through the last scene in act one. It’s a big scene (20 pages, Kelly says, almost its own playlet), and there’s a lot going on. With the water flapping and surging, you’re drawn into this choppy ride, and the actors – using their words and actions – are showing you with a shipwreck looks like. And sounds like. And feels like. At times, actors toss out a suggestion to Kelly, about where to place their hands or how to move. Kelly says, “I’m very open to hearing people’s ideas, but they have to filter through my crazy imagination, and be cohesive.” He says, “The actors are creating everything, creating a storm, a ship breaking in two. We’re not bringing in a lot of set pieces. The actors have to be the ship, and be the door, and bring the audience along.”
Creating that strong visual image is essential: if the dialogue and music advance the story, it’s the imaging that actually shows the story. Throughout the rehearsal, Kelly reminds his cast “we’re making a picture” to reinforce this. “All of the pictures in the show are so important,” he says. Chris Schenk’s set design is very abstract and on levels, so it’s up to the actors to create the images against that abstract background. Kelly says, “That’s what theatre is: moving pictures.”
For actor Renee Landrigan, she enjoys playing her multiple roles, partly because it’s something she doesn’t get to do very often. “I’m Molly, a pirate, and a mollusk,” she laughs. And in one scene, she jumps “overboard” onto the linked hands of her castmates. She says, “I like a good balance: this is a great cast and story.”
Director Kelly agrees: “A wonderful thing about this show is the heart. It keeps reinventing itself”
“Peter and the Starcatcher” is onstage at MusicalFare, September 6 to October 8, 2017. Visit www.musicalfare.com for tickets and details.
Promotional Consideration provided by the Theatre Alliance of Buffalo.