“Peter and the Starcatcher” at Art West

We all know the story of Peter Pan, but do we know where he came from, what his background was? Arts West’s latest show provides that history. Based on a novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, this Tony award-winning play by Rick Elice with music by Wayne Barker provides all the answers, and does so with élan.

The year is 1885, Peter and his fellow boys, having been sold to a merchant captain, are on their way to a sad end when their ship, the “Neverland,” encounters a terrible storm. Also on the ship is Molly, a remarkable young girl whose father, on another ship, is on a mission for the Queen involving a trunk filled with treasure and a decoy trunk filled with sand. Of course, the trunks get switched, the ship sinks, and the characters must swim to land.

If that sounds convoluted it is. There are a few too many plot complications in this play. They include pirates, double crosses, switched identities, magical amulets, unkind sailors, a cruel captain, heroic acts, mermaids, an enchanted grotto, magic dust, and so much more, but the cleverness of the production and the vitality of the cast make one forgive the surfeit and just let the details sail by.

It all plays out on a set created by Julia Welch that is itself enchanting, especially bathed in the clever lighting by Tristan Roberson. Huge numbers of ragged cloth streamers that appear to be tie-dyed are suspended from metal poles. “So what’s special about that?” you might ask. Let me tell you that at various times during the play the cast hoists those bedecked poles and attaches them overhead to create fantastical, magical effects as the cloths flutter above the players. It’s a clever theatrical devise.

The play is rich with other interesting features There’s delightful wordplay, lots of charming silliness, and physical humor. Yet there’s also a moral. Bonds of friendship and love are shown to triumph over greed.

The marvelous effects and charming music (directed here by Rob Scherzer and Eric Ankrim) makes it appropriate for both adults and children 10 and up.

Through Dec. 23, at Arts West, 4711 California Ave., SW, Seattle, (206-938-0963 or artswest.org)

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