By Melissa Rose Bernardo
Updated March 10, 2011 at 05:00 AM EST
Joan Marcus

Even if you’ve never pondered precisely how Peter Pan ended up in Never Land, where he acquired the ability to fly, or how he met up with Tinkerbell — and, let’s face it, you probably haven’t — there’s a rollicking good time to be had at Peter and the Starcatcher, Rick Elice’s gleefully irreverent theatrical take on the 2006 novel of (almost) the same name.

Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s Peter and the Starcatchers — a prequel to J.M. Barrie’s turn-of-the-20th-century tales about the fairy-befriending fly boy who refuses to grow up — was pitched squarely to the preteen set: Sold into slavery, little orphan Peter and his band of lost boys hit the high seas. There, they tussle with pirates (here played by Next to Normal‘s Adam Chanler-Berat, wonderfully wide-eyed and wistful), tangle with mermaids, and join forces with Molly, the plucky young apprentice to an English starcatcher (played by The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee‘s Celia Keenan-Bolger, an expert in the precocious-children genre). Elice, who coauthored Jersey Boys, aims to entertain the grown-up set as well as amuse the kiddies. After all, 10-year-olds aren’t the ones shelling out $70 a pop.

The dialogue is practically whiplash-inducing, peppered with comically overdone phrases like ”evocative as a madeleine in a Proust novel” and ”elusive as a melody in a Philip Glass opera” and, somewhat less poetically, ”predictable as the beer pong in a frat house.” All of those zingers, incidentally, belong to Black Stache, the mustachioed villain played with a generous amount of face paint and pinpoint comic timing by Christian Borle. In Elice’s greatest — and most inspired — departure from the source material, he turns Black Stache from a standard-issue dastardly pirate into a preening, prissy, ham-handed fop prone to malapropisms and seasickness, which must be rather awkward for a pirate.

But the time-period-be-damned references don’t always fly. (And speaking of flying, don’t expect to see any: Directors Roger Rees and Alex Timbers have orchestrated a purposely low-tech — and thus fantastically creative — production.) When Stashe lashes out at Molly, saying, ”And I bet your milkshake brings all the boys to the yard!” he gets plenty of laughs — but the 6-year-old girl in front of me looked very puzzled…and highly annoyed that she wasn’t in on the joke. Is this a kids’ or an adult show? Technically, Peter is a play, but there are multiple songs, from sea shanties to rousing ensemble numbers, scattered throughout. And though this is the story of Peter Pan, it’s not crystal-clear how he eventually gets his wings. There is, however, a kick line of mermaids composed almost entirely of men, costumed brilliantly by Paloma Young in an impressive array of kitchen tools. No matter how old you are, there’s always something funny about a guy in a funnel bra. B

(Tickets: or 212-279-4200)