Stage Preview: Audiences believe in new take on Peter Pan


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The appeal of the boy who wouldn't grow up seems to get stronger with age.

"Peter Pan" has left a trail of magical fairy dust since J.M. Barrie's story first mesmerized audiences in 1904, inspiring writers such as humorist Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson to have their own imaginations take flight.

The co-writers brought the 21st-century trend of a prequel to their novel "Peter and the Starcatchers," which launched a brave lad on a rip-roaring adventure aboard a ship called Neverland and brought him face to face with a pirate known as Black Stache.

You know where this is going, but getting there is the fun.

John Sanders understudied Tony winner Christian Borle as Broadway's Stache and is having a ball getting back to the role of the pirate captain.

"To be in a place where it's like, 'Oh, maybe that's how I should have done it,' and then to be able to go back to it is such an amazing thing," he said by phone last week. "This guy is such a cool, weird, fun, arcane, elusive guy to find every night."

’Peter and the Starcatcher’

Where: Heinz Hall, Downtown.

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets: $20-$68; 412-392-4900 or www.trustarts.org.

Note: The touring company suggests that the show is suitable for younger audiences but most enjoyable for those 10 and up.

In adapting the novel as a play with music, Rick Elice re-created the Barry-Pearson story as "Peter and the Starcatcher," letting loose an award-winning tale of fanciful twists and turns, fantasy and poignancy. Set designer Donyale Werle won the Tony for an inventive scheme that uses seemingly found objects to create sets and props. Roger Rees and Alex Timbers co-directed the show to five Tonys, including one for Fox Chapel native Borle as the over-the-top Black Stache, who is destined for infamy and a hook.

Translating the show's charms to the national tour stop at Heinz Hall Tuesday -- the final stop in a yearlong run -- are Joey deBettencourt as the nameless Boy, Megan Stern as Molly and Mr. Sanders' Stache.

"This is the role I'd always dreamed of and never knew it," he said. "It's such a wonderfully written role because there are so many holes in it, I have to find something in myself every single night in order to do it. And that's why it's never gotten old. Never. It's kind of like a Willie Wonka, who is scary because he's a little crazy, but he's in complete control, so we kind of let ourselves enter the magic. The Stache is scary and crazy, but he's not in control. His surroundings are constantly in flux and he's barely hanging on to whatever authority he's got. And that kind of wild character is a fun thing to do."

It's easy to chalk up the Peter Pan appeal to the child in all of us, and certainly that's a big part of the story's enduring popularity. Throw in "Peter and the Starcatcher's" wildly imaginative staging and cast of vivid characters, and you're bound to be hooked once more.

Sharon Eberson: seberson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1960. Read more of the interview with John Sanders in the OnStage blog at communityvoices.post-gazette.com.


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