Seven years ago, playwright Rick Elice of “Jersey Boys” fame wouldn’t have seriously considered penning anything related to Peter Pan.
“I was never a Peter Pan-o-phile and I didn’t know very much about him beyond the peanut butter,” says Elice, who, after prodding from acclaimed stage directors Roger Rees and Alex Timbers, found himself adapting Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s best-selling novel “Peter and the Starcatchers.”
He did a pretty good job, too. The play “Peter and the Starcatcher,” which opens this week at the Curran Theatre in The City, won five Tony Awards in 2012.
Elice decided to do the project after reading J.M. Barrie’s original story — both a play and a novel — which is different from the musical version that has been popular for decades.
“I loved the things that Barrie did,” he says. “The real pleasure for me was figuring out a way as a writer to merge the contemporary, irreverent tone of Barry’s and Ridley’s novel with the style that James Barrie employed in the original some 100 years earlier.”
Elice particularly enjoyed how well Barrie used high comedy and low comedy, alliteration, puns, physical gags and meta-theatrical anachronisms.
In “Peter and the Starcatcher,” a prequel of sorts that explores how the title character became the boy who never grew up, a company of a dozen actors takes on more than 100 characters. The costumes, lighting, and sound and scenic design, which won Tonys, also are remarkable.
“The most satisfying part, for me, was really figuring out a way to do it,” says Elice, who earned a Tony nomination. “I loved the challenge to write a new play that merged the two disparate styles of James Barrie and Barry’s and Pearson’s work, but also connected the dots between the characters that are now so mythic in our culture.”
As for the fascination audiences continue to have with the iconic Peter Pan figure, Elice thinks it’s because people relate to how the character feels like an “eternal outsider.”
“It’s so easy for many of us to feel disenfranchised,” he says. “Peter never gets a place at the table or invited back into the room, and to understand that as an adult, and put it through a bittersweet prism onstage, is very effective.”
IF YOU GO
Peter and the Starcatcher
Where: Curran Theatre, 445 Geary St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. most Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Dec. 1
Tickets: $40 to $160