‘Peter Pan’ So Old, Yet So Young
Peter Pan is old. The boy hero—who refused to grow up, who could fly and who lived in Neverland—is beyond “back in the day.” He goes way back to 1904 and the first book and stories penned by J.M. Barrie, featuring Peter, Wendy and Captain Hook. He moved to the London stage and silent movies. Then, proceeded to the Disney cartoon and to when Mary Martin, a middle-aged woman and Broadway star played him on stage and in a live television production. Recently, he goes back to Robin Williams and Julia Roberts as Tinker Belle in Stephen Spielberg’s “Hook.”
Nobody who could be called a lost boy—or girl—today would remember any of this.
Not even Joey deBettencourt, the 27-yearold actor, now on stage at the Kennedy Center, who gets to say—somewhat awestruck—surrounded by his fellow lost boys:
“I am … Peter,” transforming from a character called “boy” to, well, you know.
The national touring company production of of the five-time Tony Award-winning Broadway hit, “Peter and the Starcatcher” is running now at the Eisenhower Theater through Feb. 16.
This prequel to Peter Pan is based on the best-selling novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. It began off-Broadway before to its successful Broadway run. It is now in the midst of a national tour that has taken deBettencourt, who is part of a 12-member cast that is on stage all of the time, all over America. I caught up with by phone in East Lansing, Mich.
“The touring part of this is amazing," said deBettencourt, sounding a little like one of those wide-eyed boys that included Peter before he was Peter Pan. "It’s a whole different kind of life, but where else could you see so much of this country, at this level, not only being in a new city, but performing before different audiences?”
DeBettencourt has had some experience touring, but “nothing this extensive, this expansive,” he said. The Skokie, Ill., native was a member of the Chicago-based Griffin Theatre, whose self-described mission is “to create extraordinary and meaningful theatrical experiences for both children and adults and building bridges of understanding between generations that instill in its audiences an appreciation of the performing arts.”
That’s a mouthful, but “Peter and the Starcatcher” seems exactly the kind of theatrical project that’s in line with the Griffin approach, appealing as it does to both young and adult audiences.
“That’s exactly so,” deBettencourt said. “You should see the differences in the audiences when we have a matinee where a lot of young people and children are on hand. That’s a lively audience, hugely responsive. The kids get into it. A night audience is a little different, but also responsive, in a way you can sense.”
DeBettencourt, who last appeared in the more adult-oriented play, “Punk Rock” by British playwright Simon Stephens. “That was very different, even difficult," deBettencourt said. "It’s about young people in the age of school shootings, but it’s set in England where that kind of thing isn’t supposed to happen.”
“It’s amazing to be with this show,” he said. “My fiancé (Julia Beck, an education director who runs arts programs for children in hospitals) heard about the auditions for “Starcatcher” and said ‘you’ve got to do this.' So, I auditioned, and I felt really strongly about the show. I was asked to come to New York to audition again, and here I am.”
“I’m glad to be here in Washington at the Kennedy Center, and it’s also going to be a kind of family thing,” he said. “I have aunts and uncles who live in Bethesda, Md.”
“This is a different—but also old—form of story-telling,” he said. “It’s adventure. It uses old props and costumes. It’s a show with music and a kind of origin and prequel to the Peter Pan story—pirates, villains, a Hook-like character, orphans being kidnapped, a high seas adventure— one of the ships is called the Neverland.
“What I really like about being in this is that it’s a play, a show, that tries to connect directly to the audience," deBettencourt said. "It’s not a matter of making people work, but rather having a truly shared experience. It’s not a literal kind of thing. It’s the theater. You’re asked to imagine things, believe things. It’s not something you can get anywhere else, and I believe that people, in this tech age, are hungry for such a experience. I’ve seen it in the audience.”
“There’s no app for that,” I suggest. “Right,” he says. “I’m going to steal that.”
Like the “boy” becoming Peter. “The thing is that you know, not wanting to grow up also means knowing you’ll never have certain experiences," deBettencourt said. "And that’s a loss, too. But there is always the star catcher, the magic, all of that. Right here on stage.”