'Peter and the Starcatcher' Epitomizes Power of Prequels

'Peter and the Starcatcher' Epitomizes Power of Prequels

The entertainment industry is entranced by sequels, reboots and remakes, so it makes sense it would throw its arms around prequels.

The last few years have seen the early days of Michael Meyers, Hannibal Lecter Norman Bates, and even the Wicked Witch of the West on the big screen, television and the stage, respectively.

Branding and name recognition mean everything in our information overload age, so even when movies like Hannibal Rising flopped the industry refused to give up on prequels.

Peter and the Starcatcher, which began its first nationwide tour in Denver this week and runs through Sept. 1, epitomizes the prequel done more or less right. The show, which moves on to Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Seattle after its Mile High City stop, tells the story of a boy who will be named Peter Pan. The farcical show, in its current form, suffers from a strained first act, but the production’s buoyant humor and precise performances make it a worthy addition to the modest Pan canon.

And that’s really how the prequel can properly expand the brand–improving on existing elements without revealing material stretched too far.

In the case of Starcatcher, the Tony Award-winning play co-opts our culture’s hunger for meta-entertainment in ways that rarely feel insulting. We hear modern jargon and watch actors drop current references while watching an undeveloped Peter (Joey DeBettencourt) gets to know the man who will become the foe known as Captain Hook (a marvelous John Sanders).

Grit your teeth through a slam against Ayn Rand, and you’ll find the kind of absurdist humor not seen since the glory days of Monty Python.

It’s all based on the 2006 children’s novel Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, and its critically hailed Broadway debut proved the transition to stage kept its pleasures intact.

That first act’s murky storytelling also includes a few desperate gags–two flatulence jokes is two too many when uncorked in such uninspired fashion. The second act, which begins with a comically tart drag number, offers far more consistent rewards.

The spare but evocative set is straight out of a child’s imagination, glimpses of this and that meant to spark our minds into new realms. One need not be versed in all things Peter Pan to dissolve into giggles throughout the show.

Prequels thrive when they can stand on their own and earn their own applause without maxing out the goodwill of the source. Television’s Bates Motel appears to do just that, according to both ratings and critical huzzahs despite Alfred Hitchcock’s intimidating source material.

Peter Pan is equally beloved, albeit for a drastically different demographic, and Peter and the Starcatcher finds it shining brightly beyond its obvious marketing pluses.