Students and Broadway vets perform together in ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’ |

Students and Broadway vets perform together in ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’

Spencer Hansen and the orphan boys from the Theatre Aspen production "Peter and The Starcatcher" perfrom for a technical rehearsal Wednesday afternoon.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

If You Go …

What: ‘Peter and the Starcatcher,’ presented by Theatre Aspen

Where: Hurst Theatre, Rio Grande Park

When: Thursday, July 16, 8 p.m. (opening night); runs through Aug. 21

Cost: $32 and up; opening night $100

Tickets and more info:

When a series of “Peter Pan” prequel books was released a decade ago, Spencer Hansen was still in their target audience. As an adolescent in Oregon, he voraciously read them, beginning with Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s “Peter and the Starcatchers.”

When playwright Rick Elice adapted it for the stage, Hansen searched YouTube for clips to see the story come to life. Beginning Thursday, Hansen, now a theater student at Texas State University and Theatre Aspen apprentice, will be on stage at the Hurst Theatre bringing it to life himself.

Playing Ted — an orphan and Lost Boy-to-be — is a cherished opportunity, the rising junior said. Doing so alongside a Broadway veteran such as Thom Christopher Warren, who plays the pirate “Black Stache,” is a dream.

“From an apprentice perspective, I’m freaking out that a) we get to work with these people and b) that we’re treated as equals with the rest of the cast,” Hansen said in the lobby of the theatre before a recent rehearsal.

Hansen is one of 13 actors and crew members working on Theatre Aspen shows this summer as part of its apprentice program, which puts students to work beside pros.

For experienced performers such as Warren, a longtime cast member of the Broadway smash “The Lion King,” Hansen is just another talented castmate. He said the level of talent among the apprentices makes it natural to treat them as equals.

“There’s really no difference for us here,” he said. “They’re just younger.”

Hansen has roles in three shows — “Cabaret,” “Junie B. Jones” and “Peter and the Starcatcher” — now running concurrently. It’s a veritable acting boot camp, throwing him into wildly different shows and roles, from the risque Berlin nightlife of “Cabaret” to the kid-friendly “Junie B. Jones” (though, audience may have noticed, Hansen memorably performs in drag in both musicals).

“It’s just a great opportunity to explore,” Hansen said. “It’s challenging, but that’s where the fun comes in — in character construction and playing around in completely different worlds.”

The chemistry and camaraderie of the cast across the season’s four shows and its mix of professionals and students, Hansen and Warren said, can be credited to casting. Warren noted that director Mark Martino — a Theatre Aspen regular who is directing both “Peter” and “Cabaret” — is adept at mixing complementary personalities.

“The reality is that I know guys who auditioned for my role, and I know they’re really good and probably a little better,” Warren said. “But Mark and I laughed a lot during my audition, and I’m sure that factored into it. I mean there was an ease and a shorthand there that indicated that we could have fun and get the work done.”

For “Peter,” the 12-member cast creates Neverland itself out of a bare stage. The show is staged with an imaginative minimalism apropos of the world of Peter Pan. Actors build the sets as the action proceeds, grabbing props and making a new world on stage for the audience — a flashlight for the starry night sky, a rope for the hull of a ship.

“It seems to be actor- and imagination-driven from beginning to end,” said Warren, “whereas it’s actually impeccably choreographed from beginning to end.”

The story of childhood self-discovery, first love and growing up — set in the familiar landscape of “Peter Pan” — is an ideal theater experience, Warren said, for the adults and children in the audience and for actors under the lights.

“This play is not only what theater can do but, to me, what it should do,” Warren said. “It should make people think, it should move people, it should make you laugh.”

Warren became a fan by seeing “Peter” in both its Off Broadway and Broadway runs, and read the novels to prepare to play “Black Stache.” Surprisingly, he said, the experience has similarities to his work on “The Lion King,” from which he’s taking a break for the Theatre Aspen season.

Director Julie Taymor’s aesthetic for the Tony Award-winning Broadway epic, he noted, makes use mostly of puppetry and masks and was inspired by Indonesian forms of theater that props are on-hand.

“It wasn’t about a chandelier or a helicopter or these massive scenic elements. ‘Peter’s’ design philosophy is very similar. So it’s been an easy transition,” he said, adding with a laugh: “It’s nice not to carry 60-pound puppets for a couple months.”

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