From left, Norm Killop plays Smee, Jeffrey Smyk plays the Black Stache, Lauren Berndt plays Molly and Joshua Whitson plays Peter in Grosse Pointe Theatre’s production of “Peter and the Starcatcher.”

From left, Norm Killop plays Smee, Jeffrey Smyk plays the Black Stache, Lauren Berndt plays Molly and Joshua Whitson plays Peter in Grosse Pointe Theatre’s production of “Peter and the Starcatcher.”

Photo by Dale Pegg, provided by Grosse Pointe Theatre


‘Peter and the Starcatcher’ shows how Peter Pan got to Neverland

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published January 18, 2018

GROSSE POINTE PARK — Generations have grown up with the story of Peter Pan — aka the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up — but have you ever wondered how the legendary fictional character came to lead a band of Lost Boys and battle nemesis Captain Hook?

The Tony Award-winning “Peter and the Starcatcher” shows how Peter Pan and the other characters in his life — including the villainous pirate Hook, the fairy Tinker Bell and the crocodile that pursues Hook — came to be. Based on the novels by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, the theatrical version of “Peter and the Starcatcher” continues Grosse Pointe Theatre’s 70th anniversary season with productions Jan. 21 through Feb. 3 at the Pierce Middle School auditorium in Grosse Pointe Park.

The Peter Pan whom audiences meet in this show is a despondent orphan who catches the attention of Molly, the feisty young daughter of Lord Leonard Aster. Peter, his fellow orphans and Molly find themselves in the middle of an adventure on the high seas involving pirates and secret treasure.

“It’s musical theater and stylized comedy and drama all at the same time,” said Joshua Whitson, of Madison Heights, who plays Peter. “You can be crying and laughing (simultaneously), because there’s moments that are so genuine and heartfelt and funny at the same time — like life.”

Director Kevin Fitzhenry, of Warren, said “Peter and the Starcatcher” was the first show he saw on Broadway, and it left a powerful impression on him. 

“It changed the way I saw theater,” he said — a sentiment echoed by others who’ve seen it. “I had seen ensemble shows before, but never (something) this intense.”

Whitson is another of the show’s devotees.

“I heard of the (GPT) audition the day of (the audition), grabbed a résumé and ran out the door,” he said. “I saw this show on tour when I was in college and absolutely loved it. It really changed the way I saw theater.”

Lauren Berndt, of St. Clair Shores, plays Molly. She hadn’t seen “Starcatcher” before, but now considers herself a fan.

“I have absolutely fallen in love with this show,” she said. “It just pulls at all of your heartstrings.”

The 13 actors portray more than 100 different characters — often multiple characters in the same scene — so Fitzhenry said they need to be able to morph into someone else instantly.

Anna Chrisman, of Harper Woods, is the costume chair for this show. The costume changes are almost all very subtle — sometimes just the addition of a hat or a cane — because this isn’t a show with a lavish wardrobe.

“I think probably the biggest challenge (as a costumer) with this is that it’s not overly fantastical,” Chrisman said. “It has to look normal. There can’t be anyone who stands out from anyone else.”

Music and vocal director Ron Pietrantoni, of Detroit, said Fitzhenry approached him about working on this show. 

“It’s not a musical — it’s a show with music,” said Pietrantoni, noting that he’s mostly providing a musical underscore, as well as playing some sound effects.

“I am almost a part of the cast, because so much of what I do is intertwined with (the actors),” he continued.

Gordon Richardson, of Grosse Pointe Park, who plays Bill Slank/Hawking Clam, said Fitzhenry also approached him about doing this show. GPT regulars will recognize him from other recent GPT shows “Fiddler on the Roof” and “The Pirates of Penzance.”

The cast also includes Jeffrey James Smyk, of Roseville, as the Black Stache; Michael McDowell-Parker, of Grosse Pointe Woods, as Lord Leonard Aster; Norm Killop, of Romeo, as Smee; Phil Potter, of St. Clair Shores, as Mrs. Bumbrake/Teacher; Joe Allen, of Warren, as Fighting Prawn/Grempkin/Mack/Sanchez; Grayson Kennedy, of Grosse Pointe Farms, as Prentiss; Gerald Ashby Jr., of Detroit, as Ted; Virginia Lee, of Grosse Pointe City, as Alf; and John Leo, of Grosse Pointe City, as Captain Robert Falcon Scott.

With its emotional heft, “Peter and the Starcatcher” is an adult show, but the cast said kids will appreciate it as well, given the underlying adventure and a number of slapstick moments. They liken it to animated Pixar movies like “Toy Story,” which appeal on different levels to different age groups.

“It does a really good job of capturing what being a child is like,” Whitson said.

He said this show is “so out of the box and so original,” but it’s also relatable because the characters are “so engrained in our culture.” 

“This is a magical show,” said producer Kathleen Lusk, of Detroit. “It makes you feel like a child and an adult at the same time.”

The cast and crew are excited to be returning to Pierce as well, as it was the site of GPT’s first show — “Clarence” by Booth Tarkington — in 1948.

Pierce Middle School is located at 15430 Kercheval Ave. in Grosse Pointe Park. Free parking is available for the show, as is complimentary valet parking. Tickets cost $20. For advance tickets or more information, call the GPT box office at (313) 881-4004 or visit www.gpt.org.