By Michael Gioia
30 Apr 2012
Cathy Rigby, Sandy Duncan and Mary Martin are among the leading ladies known for their performances as Peter Pan — or the Boy Who Would Not Grow Up. This time, a leading man is taking a stab at the lost boy. Adam Chanler-Berat, who was last seen on Broadway in the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Next to Normal, returns to the title role of Peter and the Starcatcher, an intimate prequel to Peter Pan.
In early 2011 Chanler-Berat created the role of Boy in the New York Theatre Workshop production of Peter and the Starcatcher, written by Rick Elice and based upon the children's novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. Following its acclaimed downtown engagement, Chanler-Berat took on the role of New York City filmmaker Mark Cohen in the Off-Broadway revival of Rent. After a year of lead roles on the Off-Broadway circuit, the young actor is back on Broadway, holding tight to his trunk of Starstuff, fighting off the menacing Black Stache (played by "Smash" star Christian Borle) and telling the swashbuckling tale of a Peter Pan in the making.
Adam Chanler-Berat: Besides not having any kind of personal time, it's been a Dream Year for me. It's sort of how I want my years to always work in an ideal world. [As an actor], your hope is that you do a great, original Off-Broadway show, and when that ends, you move on to something else, and then eventually that Broadway show comes back around.
What was the vibe at the end of the New York Theatre Workshop run before you learned of the transfer?
ACB: It was hopeful, ambiguous and sad because there was a very good possibility that this was the last time we were going to perform this show. But there was a sort of static in the air. I think how they left it was, "We're going to try to make this happen," but I had to convince myself that it wasn't, so I could move on and do other things. It also sort of made sense in my mind that it might not happen — this tiny, little Off-Broadway show. I wasn't convinced of its broad appeal — that it would be right for Broadway houses or audiences. The New York Theatre Workshop audience is a drastically different demographic than the people who come to see Broadway shows.
|photo by Stephanie Warren|
Tell me about the transfer and adjusting from the intimate space to a Broadway house.
ACB: I think that a few things transpired: our chemistry, as a company, has grown — it's really like a family; and then I think [playwright] Rick Elice gave — what might appear as subtle — a good amount of changes that were so well-received and reviewed. He certainly wasn't lazy in the transfer, and I think he's got a good brain for what works for a broader appeal. And, something happened with the chemistry of it all — the alchemy of the transfer was just right. I think that this show is in the best shape it's ever been in. The audiences here are really allowing themselves to enjoy it; at New York Theatre Workshop, it felt a little more tentative.
When looking at all of material on Peter Pan — books, movies, musicals — there are multiple endpoints, but you're creating the beginning. What was it like to work backwards?
ACB: I sort of became fascinated with the [public] obsession [with] the Peter Pan story…it's part of the fabric of humans. I'm fascinated with why it appeals so much to adults as it does to kids, so I did some research. I found some doctorate thesis papers, and I also fell into [following mythologist and writer of "The Hero With a Thousand Faces"] Joseph Campbell and the mythic version of the "hero's journey," which I think Peter Pan falls into. I wanted to know why that happened. That was almost as much fuel as reading the actual J.M. Barrie material.
When I was in college [at Marymount Manhattan], I started a theatre company with my friends — as a lot of young, frustrated artists do when you're in that environment and looking for a way to express yourself — and we did an original show. [Our group] was called Five Flights Theatre Company, and it actually still exists — they do a bunch of festivals every now and then — and we wanted to do original work. My proposal for our first project… I brought in a bunch of Shel Silverstein books and [said], "This is my youth." When I think of things that I was fascinated with when I was a kid, it was [his] books, poems and the illustrations. I was really enchanted by [them]. We ended up creating a piece of theatre called Don't Step on the Cracks, and it was a series of vignettes. It was done in the same sort of collaborative, bare-bones, multi-purposing-of-props idea that we're using here [with Peter and the Starcatcher]. The quote that comes to my head [from Don't Step on the Cracks] was something that I wrote in one of my scenes. It's about a 15-year-old who still sucks his thumb. He says, "I don't understand why we ever stop," in reference to sucking his thumb. I think, without really knowing yet, I had been obsessed with these ideas of Eternal Youth.Continued...