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Stage West: Peter and the Starcatcher

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J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan” has delighted children and adults, alike, since the early 1900s. Over the past hundred years or so, there have been numerous adaptations in the form of plays, novels and movies−some good and some not so good.

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Stage West’s current production, “Peter and the Starcatcher,” first performed in 2009, captures the whimsy and innocence of the original story. The play went on to become a hit both off-Broadway and Broadway, where it won several Tony awards.

According to one review, it “playfully explores the depths of greed and despair, and the bonds of friendship, duty and love.”

“Peter and the Starcatcher,” is actually a prequel to “Peter Pan” that provides a backstory to the characters of Peter Pan, Mrs. Darling, Tinker Bell, and Hook. It answers some of the questions that the original story lays out, such as how an orphan named “Boy” becomes Peter Pan, how Tinker Bell came to be and how Captain Hook got his name. It also introduces new characters, such as Black Stache (portrayed by Ryan Bintz), Mrs. Bumbrake (played in drag by Kenneth Grace) and Molly Aster (played by Jess Virginia), in addition to characters from the original, such as Peter Pan (portrayed by Grant Sparr) and Smee (played by Mark Sanders). Seasoned director Mark Burdette brings the whole production to life.

Burdette has directed dramas and comedies, including “The Glass Menagerie,” “Steel Magnolias,” and most recently the hit comedy “Four Old Broads.”

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When asked if he has a preference, Burdett replied, “I love both. I think any good comedy must have a bit of drama in it and any good drama has some comedy. Art imitates life.”

Every production is a cooperative effort among director, cast and crew that requires hours of hard, yet fulfilling work−a musical, even more so. “I had an amazing choreographer, Jeanine Martin-Rogers, to assist with all the movements that had to occur in sync with specific music. This was also my first time working with a musical director, Brady Lay, and a live pit,” Burdette states.

Mark Burdette

A live pit refers to the fact that there will be live music performed by musicians playing in the orchestra pit, instead of recorded music.

Although “Peter and the Starcatcher” has had its challenges−nearly 200 different lighting cues and elaborate costumes, along with the cast mastering the singing and choreography−Burdette has found the experience worthwhile.

“The most rewarding part has been the new and lifelong friendships I’ve made working with these magnificent people.”

Grant Sparr, who plays the lead, has been involved in theatre since kindergarten, but really became involved during his sophomore year of high school. Coincidentally, it was also a production of “Peter and the Starcatcher” that got him interested in the art form.

It’s common for actors to have some feelings of insecurity and Sparr is no exception. “The most rewarding thing about acting is allowing yourself to be vulnerable and seeing it pay off. I am an anxious person and, as an actor,

I have the opportunity to shed that and be whatever I want. It’s almost like therapy, I get into a character and just disappear into that until bows are over,” Spar admits. “It’s the most wonderful feeling when you put everything you have emotionally on the line and complete strangers receive it and understand it.”

For Sparr, one of the most challenging aspects of acting is, “self-criticism and the hardest part in my career has been shedding that to be completely in the moment.”

Because he does tend to be serious, Grant finds that one of the best things about playing Peter is being able to “play.” He likes the physicality of the role and the challenges that it has presented.

Mark Sanders plays the part of Smee, a well-known character from the original “Peter Pan” story. In this version, he is first mate to Black Stache, who incidentally goes on to become known as Captain Hook.

Sanders started in theater in high school and since then has been involved in all different facets of theatre−acting, directing, producing and even playwriting. His favorite role has been Oscar Madison, the slobbish half of the pair in “The Odd Couple.”

Sanders remarked, “When I played the role, I looked for every opportunity to demonstrate Oscar’s messy habits. It was so freeing to play that part.”

He finds a number of rewarding aspects to being involved in theatre. “Acting allows escapism. I can break free from the stress of the real world. My worst days working in theatre are always better than my best days in my daytime job. You get the opportunity to do things you wouldn’t normally get to do in real life. Like with ‘Peter and The Starcatcher,’ I get to live the life of a pirate for the sake of outrageous comedy.”

The majority of Mark’s acting experience over the past thirty-five years has been non-musical comedies and dramas, so being in a musical has been somewhat challenging for him.

“It is three times the work of a non-musical as you have to commit to not only acting but singing and dancing. Because I have two left feet, I definitely feel a little overwhelmed,” Mark admits.

Kenneth Grace, who plays Mrs. Bumbrake, is experienced in performing in drag. In fact, in a play that he did with Mark Burdette entitled “Greater Tuna,” Grace played ten different characters, two of which were female.

“I think you get a certain latitude playing a woman in a comedy and it’s also funnier I think when the role is played by a man because it’s silly and ridiculous, the way I play it anyway,” Kenneth remarked.

What he liked best about the role is the fact that it’s different and he enjoyed the challenge and the opportunity to grow as an actor.

Grace got his start in acting in a rather unusual way. He did trial team in law school where he acted as a witness sometimes and as an attorney at other times. This whetted his appetite for acting. His first role on stage was in a production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” in 2015.

“One of my favorite roles was Captain Keller in ‘The Miracle Worker.’ He was a former military, a lawyer, husband and father…as was I,” Grace stated.

What he finds most rewarding about acting is transporting the audience to a different place and time and making them feel something…“AND doing it WELL,” he emphasized.

The only female in the cast is Jess Virginia who plays Molly. The character of Molly is described as “A 13-year-old apprentice Starcatcher desperate to prove herself to her father. Highly intelligent and physically adept, she remains socially awkward and something of a know-it-all.”

Jess studied at Florida School of the Arts and spent time acting in New York City. Among her roles at Stage West was Fiona in “Shrek.”

Burdette and the team that has put together “Peter and the Starcatcher” are justly proud of their work. As Burdette remarked, “It is a truly unique experience. It is a visually stunning show and one that challenges the audience to use their imaginations.”

Performances of “Peter and the Starcatcher” take place November 4, 5, 11, and 12 at 7:30 pm and November 6 and 13 at 2 pm. Stage West Playhouse is located at 8390 Forest Oaks Blvd, Spring Hill. Tickets can be ordered online at www.stagewestflorida.com or by calling the box office at 352-683-5113, Tuesdays – Saturdays 10 am – 2 pm.

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