Ever wonder what caused Peter Pan to become Peter Pan? Possible clues abound.
First, there’s the official prequel, “The Little White Bird,” written by Peter’s creator, J. M. Barrie, and published in 1902.
In 2004, humorist Dave Barry and mystery writer Ridley Pearson created their own Peter Pan back-story. Titled “Peter and the Starcatchers,” it was published by Disney subsidiary Hyperion in 2004 and has spawned an entire series of books that take place prior to Wendy’s flight from the nursery to Never Land via happy thoughts and magic dust.
Now, Rick Elise (“Jersey Boys”) has written a play based on the Barry/Pearson hit novel. It is part of La Jolla Playhouse’s Page to Stage program, directed by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers, and presented by special arrangement with Disney Theatrical Productions, whose involvement causes one to wonder if the animated film and musical are far behind.
On a Jan. 30 rehearsal break, Rees and Timbers wolfed down their lunch and then met briefly with Village News to discuss the project. Young, dark, handsome and obviously talented, Timbers spent four seasons at Williamstown Theatre Festival, where Rees was artistic director from 2005 to 2007.
“Alex was part of a program called Leapfrog,” said Rees, who trained at the Royal Shakespeare. “He did a most astonishing musical (‘Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson’) that went on to [Los Angeles] Center Theatre Group and is going to be done at the Public Theatre in New York this year as well. It’s a fantastically imaginative, audacious piece of political theater, very musical, very modern….and you know, when you get to be my age, which is ancient, it’s very good to be around young people.”
Born in Wales in 1944, Rees is perhaps best known for the character Robin Colcord in the television show “Cheers.” To theater folk, however, he is remembered, among others, for his Olivier- and Tony Award-winning performance in “The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby.”
According to Rees, Elise and Disney producer Thomas Schumacher had the idea he and Timbers should work on “Starcatchers” a bit experimentally — “somewhat more factory theater” than the techniques Rees is familiar with from “Nickleby.”
Rees said, “Ostensibly this thing is done with absolutely nothing on the stage. There is no scenery, no ship, no island or anything like that. It turns out to be a rather moving story about maturity, responsibility and the decisions that you make in life. Therefore, it applies not only to audiences contemporaneous to the leading characters, 12 and 13, but actually to anyone who’s grown up through life and made a decision they regret later or [passed up] an opportunity when it came along. We all have Peter Pan inside us.”
What about the bad guys? Rees turned to Timbers and asked, “Are there any bad guys?”
Timbers replied, “Not really.”
Then Rees explained that the piece shows the beginnings of Capt. Hook and the Indians, how the Mermaids came to life …
“… and how Peter got to fly and all that stuff,” Timbers said.
Is there flying in this show?
Rees is noncommittal. “Perhaps. Perhaps. There may be. Maybe. That’s one of the things about Peter Pan. He can do that thing we all dreamed of doing when we were children.”
With a company of 16 — small potatoes compared to “Nickleby” and “The War of the Roses” — “Peter and the Starcatchers” is headed by New York-based actor Adam Green in the title role and Tony Award winner Celia Keenan-Bolger (“The 20th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”) as Molly, who is a very strong protagonista and teaches Peter more than a thing or two.
“Peter and the Starcatchers” plays Feb. 13 through March 8 in the Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre at La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive. Youth tickets are $17.50, adult, $35. For tickets and information, visit www.lajollaplayhouse.org or call (858) 550-1010.