In celebration of their magical transmogrification from fish after coming into contact with a celestial dust called starstuff, a ragtag chorus line of mermaids in blue, stringy mop wigs and burlesque bikini tops are high-kicking, Rockette style.
"Don't think about it!" one of them shouts at the audience the instant the irony becomes apparent.
This playfully self-aware musical number is the second-act opener to Peter and the Starcatcher — a smart, fluid, fleet-footed origin story to Peter Pan, Captain Hook and all those who inhabit the world created by J.M. Barrie more than a century ago. Although its fairy-tale characters and fart gags put it squarely in the realm of children's fare, it has enough risqué laughs and passing references to Ayn Rand, The Smiths and Philip Glass operas to have a cross-background, cross-generational appeal.
The reason that Coeur d'Alene Summer Theatre has been able to land this particular play, not long off Broadway, ahead of so many other theaters largely comes down to Laura Little, former executive director for the organization. As luck would have it, she co-produced Peter and the Starcatcher.
"Laura wanted us to be one of the first theaters to have it regionally," says Tracey Vaughan, who took over from Little this past March after 10 years of teaching drama at Coeur d'Alene Charter Academy. Prior to that, Vaughan ran Lake City Playhouse (now The Modern) between 2003 and 2006.
Not only is Peter and the Starcatcher a "theater lover's gem" in its own right, she says, it's also a departure from CdA Summer Theatre's customary "full-blown, full-scale" musicals.
"While this one has some music, it's really a play with music. It's based on a book by humorist Dave Barry and novelist Ridley Pearson, adapted by Rick Elice for the stage. It's got that tongue-in-cheek, dry humor, and we're touting it as a grown-up prequel to Peter Pan that's great for kids as well."
Although Starcatcher, which runs through July 3, is opening the theater's 2016 season, the mainstage shows that follow are more in keeping with the repertoire that has won CdA Summer Theatre its loyal patronage over the past 49 years: The Music Man (July 14 to 31) and Disney's The Little Mermaid (Aug. 11 to 28), both of them large-scale mainstream musicals.
"The Music Man is a piece that's standard, classic musical theater that everybody has loved for generations. We've got a fast-talking salesman and a nice [love story] – like an early romantic comedy in many ways," says Vaughan. The Little Mermaid will naturally appeal to younger audiences through "visually stunning" costumes and sets.
Three more single-performance shows will augment the season. On June 22 is a staged reading of The Great Gatsby, an adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's enduring novel. Then comes a staged reading of Lombardi on July 20. As its title suggests, the play delves into the backstory of coach Vince Lombardi, who guided the Green Bay Packers to five NFL championships in the 1960s.
Then on Aug. 17, a medley of villains from popular musicals will take the stage for the Bad Boys of Broadway concert.
As live theater suffers without a live audience, this year CdA Summer Theatre is placing special emphasis on affordability. Two adults and two children can purchase tickets on Family Fridays at a combined cost of $100, a savings of $52 compared to the regular prices. During Saturday Specials, under-35s can get tickets for $30 (versus $49), and anyone can buy one regularly priced ticket and get a second at half price.
"We want to make sure that our shows are accessible to everybody. We're actually taking our cue from Broadway on this [by] making it a little more attractive and affordable to get younger audiences into the theater," Vaughan says.
"Even though this is a 50-year institution and is offering the same professional quality that it has all along, it is a new entity in many ways," says Vaughan. "There are a lot of new voices that contribute to what we offer. There's a new artistic vision for what we do." ♦
Coeur d'Alene Summer Theatre • Salvation Army Kroc Center • 1765 W. Golf Course Rd., Coeur d'Alene • (208) 660-2958 • cdasummertheatre.com