Recycling is a big theme with Peter and the Starcatcher, the Tony-winning play onstage at the Winspear Opera House through September 29. This "prequel" recycles the story of Peter Pan, Wendy, the Lost Boys and Captain Hook - yeah, we're a little tired of that crowd, too. But it puts those characters - all played by a dozen actors switching roles - on multi-layered scenery created from recycled materials.
Scenic designer Donyale Werle (rhymes with "curly") won one of the five Tonys this play received last year. She designed the dazzling set for the Off-Broadway debut and then a bigger one for the show when it transferred to Broadway's Brooks Atkinson Theater. That design has now been enlarged even more for the road tour production, which began its yearlong journey in August in Denver. The Winspear is only Peter's second stop.
Werle's bronze false proscenium arch turns the big stage at the Winspear into a gleaming Victorian toy box, where the characters play-pretend with whatever objects they grab. A rope becomes the gaping jaws of a giant crocodile. Yellow kitchen gloves flap in the actors' hands to become tropical birds. A shimmering backdrop made of shower curtains, shreds of tulle, strips of industrial plastic sheeting and other bits and bobs, is the "ocean wall" around the island where the Lost Boys and pirates battle like naughty children.
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Werle, who also created the set for Broadway's Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, dove in Dumpsters, raided supply closets, collected discarded pallet wood and hoarded junk for months to decorate Peter and the Starcatcher's eye-catching scenery. Werle says her design aesthetic fit the show's themes of "tapping into that memory of being a child, of not having all the stuff you want and creating it yourself." All of the set pieces in Act 2 of Peter are made of recycled materials.
It's a shame that only the first few rows of the Winspear allow audience members to really see the detail Werle put into the scenery, especially on that proscenium frame. The morning after the show opened here this week, we got an upclose look at all of it, wangling a backstage tour with company manager Erica Norgaard. Peter and the Starcatcher's scenery takes up only three trucks on tour. By comparison, Wicked's scenery fills 12 trucks.
Here's what's hiding in plain sight decorating that gorgeous arch: bottle caps, corks, dozens of kitchen timers, clocks, cups, rolling pins, forks, spoons, spades, shovels, coffee can lids, steamer baskets, turkey basters, buttons, snaps, coins, zippers, newspapers, plastic bottles cut up and fashioned into flower petals, cardboard tubes, old LPs and CDs, doll heads and other parts, hair curlers, combs, bottle caps and can openers.
Even on tour, Werle said in a recent interview, "We try to keep the spirit of the show downtown and not change the quality that we loved [when it was Off-Broadway]. The whole idea of the show is that your imagination controls your destiny."