Monday, April 18, 2011

New York, April 2011 - Day Four, "Peter & The Starcatcher" & "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert"

“Peter and the Starcatcher”
It’s very easy to go astray when you’re attempting to appeal to adults and children with the same entertainment. Sometimes, as with the recent “Toy Story 3,” it turns out brilliantly. The adults get the sophisticated themes and understand the landscape of the underlying emotional territory, and the kids love the silliness and colorful action. “Princess Bride,” “Shrek” and “Wicked” have walked that same delicate line with a fair bit of grace.

“Peter and the Starcatcher” – despite its terrific cast, tight direction and gag-packed script (thanks in part to Dave Barry, one of America’s greatest humorists) – weaves like a drunken sailor from the port (silly fun for the kids!) to starboard (sophisticated themes, witty wordplay and double entendre for the adults).

The nautical reference here is apropos, as almost the entirety of the show takes place at sea, on two different ships: the Wasp and the Neverland, both bound for a mystical land. One is laden with a trunk full of “star stuff,” and the dread pirate Black Stache wants to deliver it to an evil king who will use it to wicked ends. Thwarting him are 13-year old genius Molly Aster, who will grow up to be the mother of Wendy, Michael and John (this show is to “Peter Pan” as “Wicked” is to “The Wizard of Oz.”) and three orphan boys, one of whom will never grow up.

There is a lot of smart, funny stuff here. Christian Borle as Black Stache is absolutely wonderful. Without him, I think the show might wither and die entirely. He gets off some brilliant lines:

Touting the pirate life, he says, “A little swash, a little buckle…it’s just like bread, you’ll love it!”

Referring to the hard to track crocodile that ends up eating his hand he says “He’s as elusive as the melody in a Philip Glass opera.” (That's one that takes a pretty culturally savvy audience to pick up on.)

And when Molly touts her strengths (in a confident but not cocky way), he sidles up to her and says, “And I bet your milk shake brings all the boys to the yard, too.”

They’re all funny, but they require a sophistication and cultural literacy that children (and many adults, too) may not possess.

Entertaining and fun, but not entirely successful.

“Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”
Not smart enough for New Yorkers, and too gay for the bridge & tunnel crowd, this mashup of “Mamma Mia!” and “La Cage Aux Folles” (but based on the excellent Australian film) is going to have a hard time finding an audience to fill the 1740-seat Palace Theater eight times a week. The audience at the Sunday evening show I attended was quite appreciative, but there’s really very little to recommend here.

At the end, it’s all just about the costume changes. And that’s not enough.

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