The Boy (Nick Case, L) and Black ‘Stache (Anthony Cataldo, R) discuss The Boy’s name in a scene from Wagon Wheel Theatre’s production of “Peter and the Starcatcher.” Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union.
The Boy (Nick Case, L) and Black ‘Stache (Anthony Cataldo, R) discuss The Boy’s name in a scene from Wagon Wheel Theatre’s production of “Peter and the Starcatcher.” Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union.
When you’re a kid on the playground, anything can become everything.

Swings become jet planes. A jungle gym becomes a pirate ship. Sticks can be swords or stun guns. Whatever the children imagine, that’s what it is.

Watching Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts’ production of “Peter and the Starcatcher” Friday night, it was like watching young adults shed their inhibitions to become children and use their imagination to have fun. A mop stood in for a cat. An empty crate was full of sand or stardust. It’s all there, and the play simply asks the audience to put on their imagination hats and picture it.

And roles weren’t limited by gender conformity. Girls play pirates and Indians, boys play nannies and mermaids, and no one blinks twice. They illicit more laughter than anything. Of course, productions of “Peter Pan” have a long history of women playing the role of Peter Pan, so why not other roles?

It also helps to listen to each and every one of the actors for they’re not only reciting their lines but also telling you the story of how a Boy became Peter Pan, and a pirate named Black ’Stache became Captain Hook. There’s also the backstory for mermaids, Lost Boys, Tinkerbell, Smee and more.

There’s recommendations online that while children 4 and up could see the play, it’s best if the child be at least 10. I concur because not only were some adults mentioning during intermission and afterward that they had some trouble following the story, there was one particular child (guessing she was between 4-6) sitting near me who was so disinterested in the show that she chatted throughout it Friday night.

However, after the show was all over and I had about two days to think it over, I think what I liked about the Wagon Wheel production of “Peter and the Starcatcher” wasn’t so much the show itself, but the performances by the talented cast. The play is definitely creative and full of pop culture references and puns, but it’s not a play I’d rush out and go see again. I’m fully aware the show won five Tony Awards, but those were mostly technical awards, and did not include best play or such.

Oh, but the Wagon Wheel cast is what makes this show fun, and like many shows this summer season it’s the villains that held my interest the most.

Anthony Cataldo is back in a lead role as Black ’Stache. Cataldo nails the character perfectly, mixing it up with a bit of dead pan and spit takes, crossed with a tad bit of masculine and effeminate behavior. With that sweet moustache, and the great costume by the incomparable Stephen R. Hollenbeck, Cataldo looks the part, too. If there were Summer Season Tony Awards to hand out, Cataldo would capture the prize for best leading man of the season for all his excellent performances.

Playing ’Stache’s right hand man Smee is Henry Gendron, who audiences may remember as Pepper from “Mamma Mia!” He gets a bit of a bigger role in “Peter and the Starcatcher” and he doesn’t let a line go to waste. His performance was full of energy and life and one couldn’t have asked for a better actor in the role. He also has stage chemistry with Cataldo, like Laurel and Hardy or Abbott and Costello. I’d say Gendron is an actor to watch, and let’s hope he returns to the Wagon Wheel for future shows.

Lauren Drewello, who was Laurey in “Oklahoma!” this summer, gets some fun roles in “Peter and the Starcatcher.” She’s Bill Slank, captain of the Neverland ship, and Fighting Prawn, the leader of the people on Mollusk Island. She looks like she’s having as much fun on the stage as I was watching her.

Haley Holcomb was also memorable in her roles as O’Malley and Hawking Clam. Her bit with her name O’Malley was a great scene that she pulled off just fine.

Playing The Boy who becomes Peter Pan is Nick Case, who made character development look easy. The Boy is quiet, angry and lacks confidence. By the time Case transforms him into Peter Pan, he’s a leader, commanding and all grown up (without ever becoming an adult, of course).

There’s no Wendy in this origin story, but there is a Molly Aster, played well by Jessica Minter. Minter gave a quality performance that made me believe from the get-go that she was her character. She was strong and confident, the kind of girl The Boy needed to become Peter Pan. Any other type of person might not have pulled Pan out of his former skin, and Minter brought the right attributes of Molly to life.

One person who constantly stole every scene he was in was Connor Olney as Mrs. Bumbrake, Molly’s nanny. Like Miss Trunchbull in “Matilda,” Mrs. Bumbrake was written as a female role to be played by a man. While audiences may remember Olney as Cosmo Brown in “Singin’ in the Rain,” he gives a much stronger performance as the nanny in “Peter and the Starcatcher.” His performance was like if Jack from the NBC hit television show “Will & Grace” had been cast – funny, clever, smart. Olney’s performance as Mrs. Bumbrake made everyone in the audience laugh, including myself, and you just can’t get enough of his perfect performance.

Another perfect casting? Mark Mitrano as orphan boy Ted. Ted never gets tired of eating, all he thinks about is food, and if he doesn’t get enough food he whines about not getting enough. Mitrano made me laugh more times than I can recall during the show.

While this was a play and not a musical, there are some musical numbers in it, including a whimsical, silly, funny mermaid song where about every cast member is dressed up as a mermaid. Lots of laughter came with that number.

Directed by guest directors Ben Dicke and Andy Robinson, I think they brought out some of the best performances by the cast this summer. I don’t think this is a show that will appeal to everyone, but the actors are stellar and it was a privilege to watch them play pretend for their jobs.

My rating of “Peter and the Starcatcher,” which is at the Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts through Saturday (out of four): 2.75.

Tickets for “Peter and the Starcatcher” can be purchased through the box office; by calling 574-267-8041 or 866-823-2618; or online at www.wagonwheelcenter.org.