‘Peter Pan’ So Old, Yet So Young

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The Peter and the Starcatcher Tour Company | Jenny Anderson

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.”

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