Josiah Laubenstein and Ben Gorman

Peterson Creative Photography and Design

For Hal Cropp, directing the Commonweal Theatre’s production of “Peter and the Starcatcher” makes him feel like a kid again.

“Peter Pan was huge for me when I was growing up,” Cropp said. “He’s always been in my consciousness.”

“Peter and the Starcatcher,” adapted by Rick Elice from a 2004 children’s book by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, tells how a nameless orphan became Peter Pan.

“As a theater piece, it’s incredibly witty,” Cropp said. “It’s told in a very grown-up way.”

The play, which opens July 20, is part of a Commonweal season that so far appears to be looking backward with a sense of nostalgia. “Holmes and Watson” took yet another look at the Sherlock Holmes legend, and “Boeing Boeing” was a fun look at 1960s fashion and lifestyle.

Now comes an exploration of one of the more iconic stories of childhood, the magical world of Peter Pan.

The play speaks to Cropp’s memories as a child growing up at a time when entertainment by necessity came from within.

“I played a lot of make-believe as a child,” Cropp said. “Without denigrating the younger generation, we were forced to be imaginative because we didn’t have screens, other than TV.”

As a kid, Cropp dreamed of sailing on a pirate ship and having adventures like, well, Peter Pan.

Bringing the story to life requires 11 actors —a large cast for the Commonweal, said Cropp — portraying 100 characters.

Of course, some of those characters will be kids. “You ask them to be as simple as possible,” Cropp said of adult actors portraying children. “I think that’s exactly the direction. Wide-eyed wonder. Don’t anticipate.”

In the Commonweal cast are company members Lizzy Andretta, Ben Gorman, David Hennessey, Rachel Kuhnle, Josiah Laubenstein, Eric Lee, Philip Muehe and Jeremy van Meter, along with apprentice actors Matthew Donahue, Alicia Ehleringer and Caroline Hawthorne.

The Broadway production of “Peter and the Starcatcher” won Tony Awards for costume, sound, lighting and set design.

“Design is huge” for this show, Cropp said. “I’m asking my designers to create the playground on which the actors will play.”

And just to spice things up, the trap door in the Commonweal’s stage floor will be used for the first time in quite a while.

Think of it as a symbolic door to the imagination of precocious children of all ages.

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Life Reporter

Tom covers primarily arts and entertainment for the Post Bulletin and 507 Magazine. He also often writes feature stories about local history. He is a native of Milwaukee, WI, and enjoys reading and traveling.