Peter and the Starcatcher Calls Upon Imagination to Fly High

The mustache is painted directly on his face. And it's really large, designed to evoke a Groucho Marx image.

Peter and the Starcatcher has as much to do with vaudeville silliness -- and who did that better than Groucho and his brothers -- as it is a look at why boys need time to be boys, says John Sanders who plays Black Stache.

The prequel to Peter Pan, the one that's won five Tony's in 2012, is coming to the Hobby Center courtesy of Gexas Energy Broadway. Based on the best‐selling novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, it tells a tale more raucously comic and at the same time, darker, than J.M Barrie's version, according to Sanders.

"These writers [Tony® Award nominee Rick Elice] and our directors [Tony® Award‐winner Roger Rees and Tony® Award‐nominee Alex Timbershave] really zeroed in on this boy and the lost boys who are just in a terrible position in life. They're orphans and they're in this Dickensian school. They live these awful oppressive lives and all they want to do is be a boy for a while. "

Sanders describes his character Black Stache as "a sort of shadow" of the evil he will become. Black Stache is both comic and evil, the predecessor to Captain Hook, and "a sad pirate at an age where pirates really aren't a thing."

"He's silly and bombastic and anachronistic and weird and a littler bit off his rocker, so he's just a joy to play," says Sanders who played Black Stache on Broadway, then moved to the Broadway show Matilda the Musical and then signed up for the national tour.

Sanders first heard of the play while he was living in Chicago and appearing in a show at Goodman Theater in 2008 when he happened to talk to its playwright. "Three and a half years later I got a call to audition for this new Broadway play in New York."

As it so happens, Sanders is a not irregular visitor to Houston. He comes here to see his sister Ann Marshburn, a pediatrician, and her family who have lived in Houston for more than a decade. His brother-in-law is astronaut Tom Marshburn who has had a couple trips to the International Space Station and was part of a two-man team that did an emergency space walk this past May.

Asked if he flies himself in this production, Sanders laughed, saying "No, but I facilitate some of the flying. We're fond of saying this is the only production of Peter Pan where Peter actually flies without any strings or tables.

"This production has all the bells and whistles you'd expect from a Broadway show. But the trick is they're all done not by automation and special effects in lighting. We do all of those things with ropes and buckets and sticks and plungers. It's really all about what it was like to be a kid on a playground and to find anything you can use as a sword or a doorway. What it's like to just want to be a kid."

Peter and the Starcatcher runs October 15-20 at the Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For information call 1-800- 982-2787 or visit or

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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
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