By Barbara Trainin Blank @traininblank
Sequels are common; prequels, less so.
One exception is “Peter and the Starcatcher,” a book by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson that provides a backstory for the characters of Peter Pan, Hook, Mrs. Darling and Tinker Bell, and serves as a prequel to J. M. Barrie ‘s novel “Peter and Wendy.”
The book became a Tony and multiple award-winning play with music, which Rick Elice adapted for Broadway in 2013.
The Highwood Theatre is presenting not one but two productions of “Peter and the Starcatcher” in repertory – one with students in grades 2-7 and the other production for grades 8-12.
“The show contains everything we know about Peter, Tinker Bell, and others, interspersed into the story,” said Matthew Nicola, Highwood’s artistic director.
It’s also a coming-of-age adventure story about how a nameless orphan – inspired by a remarkable girl – became the celebrated hero who is “The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up,” he added.
The remarkable girl isn’t Wendy – who, along with her two brothers, comes to Neverland. She’s Molly, who is Wendy’s mother, Mrs. Darling.
“But the play does stick to the core of the story everybody knows,” said Nicola. “It answers why he is the way he is, and how his name came to be, but also addresses themes such as friendship, loyalty, what it means to be a family and an adult.”
The actors, including Peter, play multiple roles – alternating from narration to action, from ensemble to solo parts, according to Nicola.
“There’s no down time for anyone,” he said.
Catherine (Cate) Sauri, a seventh-grader at Loiederman School, plays Molly in the younger cast. This is her second production at Highwood.
“Molly is an amazing character,” Sauri said. “She’s very funny and smart, a leader at a time women were not really leaders. She wants to make sure she’s in charge – and no one thinks they can get the best of her.”
She also has a romance with Peter.
“They love each other, and they’re really close but it never goes anywhere,” Sauri said. “Molly wants to grow up, and Peter doesn’t. She definitely would stay with him; she cries when he leaves.”
Sauri said she loves the show – the characters, costumes and sets. But there are challenges. Molly has the most lines, and on top of that, the script calls for her to speak two different made-up languages, in addition to English.
Karis Francis, an eighth-grader at Alice Deal Middle School, plays Molly in the older-cast production. She has appeared in three other Highwood shows, most recently, the comedy “Lend Me a Tenor.”
Francis agreed with Sauri that Molly is a “strong character who’s so fun to play – a feminist, independent woman and good role model. She changes the entire show.”
Molly is also proud, Francis said, reluctant to show feelings to a boy who’s “in love and has to leave.”
The biggest challenge for Francis is retaining a British accent throughout the play, and learning “how to act off” the many other characters through facial expressions and voices.
“But being Molly has shown me I could be what I want to be,” Francis said. “Highwood taught me so much about acting and how to be comfortable with people you don’t know at first.”
Highwood is going all out with the staging – including two pirate ships.
“‘Peter and the Starcatcher’ is very touching, with a lot of heart, Nicola said. “It’s got a magical element, and a lot of creativity.”
Not to mention mermaids, pirates and two pirate ships on stage.
Aiden Markle stars as Peter in the older cast while Boaz Levone plays the character in the younger one.
“Peter and the Starcatcher” plays Dec.7 through Dec. 16 at Highwood Theatre at 914 Silver Spring Avenue in Silver Spring. For more information, visit thehighwoodtheatre.org.