En route to an eagerly anticipated LA homecoming, Edward Tournier has found himself aboard a fictional vessel called Neverland in a play inspired by J.M. Barrie’s vintage Peter Pan script and his Peter and Wendy novel. The national tour of the comedy-adventure Peter and the Starcatcher makes its LA debut at Center Theatre Group‘s Ahmanson Theatre on Wednesday.
Tournier, who lived in Los Angeles for seven years before moving to New York last February, makes his national tour debut in this fanciful prequel to a classic.
Barrie’s 1904 play Peter and Wendy was the basis for Walt Disney’s classic animated film Peter Pan as well as a perennially popular musical of the same name, which has traditionally featured high-flying gender-bending performances by the likes of Mary Martin, Sandy Duncan, and Cathy Rigby as the titular young boy, an airborne sprite who could never grow up.
Aside from a group of urchins — the Lost Boys — Peter/Boy is the only character from the Barrie originals to appear in Starcatcher, which was created by librettist Rick Elice, based on the novel Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. The Tony-nominated co-directors of the original Broadway production and the tour are Roger Rees and Alex Timbers (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson). Original music is by Wayne Barker.
The Broadway production earned Tonys for Christian Borle (actor in a featured role), Darron L. West (sound design), Paloma Young (costumes), Donyale Werle (scenic design), and Jeff Croiter (lighting).
Starcatchers follows the adventures of an orphan, Peter, who finds love, friendship, and ultimately himself on a faraway island. A 12-actor ensemble plays more than 100 characters. Tournier appears as one of the Lost Boys, named Ted. He describes the character as “an orphan, like Peter. He’s always hungry because he has sort of been malnourished in the orphanage. He’s a very sweet, innocent character, but he has a great-sized appetite for just about anything. It’s a comedic role, so it’s a lot of fun to play.”
Touring with Tournier
Tournier was born in Paris 30 years ago but was moved to the US when he was three years old. Raised near Boston, he’s a graduate of Boston University’s College of Fine Arts, and also studied at London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts.
His recent segue from LA to the magical land of Barrie was swift, following his relocation to New York to seek new acting opportunities. He moved to New York in February, and “we started rehearsals in July. I had started auditioning a bit in New York [in late 2012], and Starcatcher had been my very first audition there. It was for the Off-Broadway production [of Starcatcher], currently running at New World Stages.” He wasn’t cast in that production, but a few months later he was called back to accept his role in the tour edition.
Speaking from the tour engagement in San Francisco, he says, “We opened in mid-August in Denver. So this is about our fourth month now. Right now, the tour is slated through June of next year.”
Has he enjoyed his first experience in a national tour? “Definitely. I did some tours when I was in Boston, but that was just to a few different cities near there.” He hadn’t seen a production of this play, but he was quite familiar with it. He notes, “A college classmate of mine was in the original production, so I have sort of tracked the play, but I had not seen it when I auditioned. I finally went to see it and I was blown away. It was like nothing I had ever seen, so I was really excited to do it.”
He elaborates. “The ensemble of actors works together to use physical theater techniques and props and unconventional ways of storytelling. So much of the fun is how it relies on the collaborative imagination of both the actors and audience, which is obviously very fitting for a story like Peter Pan.”
As for the experience of being in a touring production, Tournier cites its demanding aspects: “It’s a rigorous schedule. We’re doing eight shows a week, but you add in the element of travel, and being in new cities sometimes every week, or just for a couple of days, and living in hotels, and getting used to each new city.” He says the company members are becoming very close due to sharing living quarters and constantly working together. “It’s a real family that develops,” he says.
He also finds it “fun to get to present the play to different audiences, more than just night to night, but from city to city. Every city has its own sort of personality.” He points out that “different audiences grasp different elements of the play in different ways.” He’s impressed that the show “keeps being fresh, despite performing it eight times a week and for a couple of hundred performances.” He had never done so many performances of one production, and he is interested in discovering how his performance evolves over that period.
He acknowledges that working in so many cities and meeting so many people could also lead to career networking opportunities. “We have been to some great theater towns. Most major American cities have vibrant theater communities.” He believes that Peter attracts theater lovers due to its theatricality, and because “anyone involved in the theater knows it’s a very innovative play. And it had a lot of success with the design Tony Awards.” He points out that the play includes a lot of jokes that “are sort of winks to people who are familiar with and live in live theater.”
Tournier has never acted in New York, and he says he moved there to pursue new career opportunities. Though he has done several television and film roles while in LA, he says he has always preferred theater. “I was doing a lot of theater in LA. And I love that theater community. My seven years in LA were a big part of my life.” He says that both professionally and artistically, “it was everything that I sort of wanted. But I have looked to New York to try something new and because I had never lived there. I wanted to see what it was all about.”
During his years in LA, Tournier achieved a lot of rewarding and acclaimed work, including acting nominations from Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, LA Weekly, the Ovations, the Back Stage Garlands, and GLAAD. He mentions that something he hadn’t set out to do but nonetheless happened is that most of his stage acting roles so far have been in new plays.
One achievement that immediately comes to his mind as a favorite is the Black Dahlia’s premiere of Jonathan Tolins’ bittersweet Secrets of the Trade, in which he played opposite John Glover. Tournier played an ambitious young man who forges a relationship with a famous middle-aged actor-director (Glover), who becomes his mentor. “This was a powerful experience, and a great introduction to the LA theater community for me,” he notes. “It was also one of the hardest plays I did there.”
He adds, “It enjoyed a lot of success. It’s a wonderful, smart, funny piece that moved a lot of people. To this day, people still approach me about it. And the play went on to New York, so it had some staying power.” He points out that working with director Matt Shakman and the Dahlia cast and crew fostered connections that “remain to this day.”
He also cites needtheater’s Mercury Fur, calling it a “wonderful play at the totally opposite end of the spectrum — so dark and scary.” He says, “It was a “great experience. And the design stayed with me. A lot of the time what lasts is the collaboration of all of the different pieces, which add up to make the production memorable. I always admire the work of designers. Starcatcher is another play for which the design is really a beauty.”
Also among his favorite experiences here were his productions with Rogue Machine, including his well-received performances in Razorback, Monkey Adored, and Where the Great Ones Run. Joining the company from its inception as a founding member, he ultimately served as producing director for one season and produced a few other shows as well. He says, “These guys are really my family in LA,. and they do incredible work. I’m sure you know that John Pollono’s [multi-award winning] Small Engine Repair [which premiered at Rogue Machine in 2011] just opened Off-Broadway [to much critical acclaim], which is so exciting.”
He continues, “The work I did there and the friendships I made there will last a lifetime. I’m so glad to get back to LA now to spend some time with them.” He’s grateful for the behind-the-scenes skills he learned at Rogue Machine: “I think when you act for a long time, you sort of start to get into the whole production end. The opportunity to direct and produce makes you a more complete theater artist.”
Among other LA companies where Tournier has performed are Theatre @ Boston Court (Futura), Theatre of NOTE (They’re Just Like Us), an Ensemble Studio Theatre and Getty Villa co-production (The Vesuvius Prophecies), Pacific Stages (Lobby Hero), and Odyssey Theatre (Small Tragedy).
Peter is not Tournier’s first experience at the Ahmanson. His first play in LA in 2007, shortly after he moved here, was that company’s production of The History Boys. He was cast as a cover for three parts and he appeared briefly in one non-speaking scene at each performance. He says, “I was so excited to be a part of that, and so I am excited to get back to the Ahmanson. I met a lot of people there and got acquainted with the theater community at that time.”
He mentions a person he met at the Ahmanson who supports his belief that the LA theater community overlaps in many ways. Lindsay Allbaugh, who became a “great friend’ to him, is one of the two artistic directors of Elephant Theatre Company, for which she directed him in the highly acclaimed Supernova. He triumphed in the role of a rebellious teenager in this heartrending kitchen-sink drama, reminiscent of the works of William Inge.
Allbaugh is also producing associate at Center Theatre Group, and as part of that job “she was involved in bringing Peter to the Ahmanson, so I now get to work with her in a totally unrelated way. It’s great. I’m so happy getting to come back to LA. It’s one of the highlights of the tour for me.”
He points out one additional example of apparent serendipity: “My very first play when I was 10 years old was Peter Pan, at Winchester Cooperative Theater in my home town of Winchester, Massachusetts. I did it because my sister had done it, so I sort of lived up to her example. I was a Lost Boy, but with no lines. So that’s another way this production is sort of a coming-home cycle for me.”
Tournier acknowledges that his first love in the creative arts remains acting, particularly in theater: “I was extremely lucky and blessed to be cast in [Peter], though I haven’t spent a lot of time in New York yet. So I am interested in discovering what that theater scene is like and to hopefully get to keep doing plays.”
Peter and the Starcatcher, Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave, LA. Opens Wednesday. Tue-Fri 8 pm, Sat 2 pm and 8 pm, Sun 1 pm and 6:30 pm. (Several schedule exceptions and added performances.) Through Jan 12. Tickets: $20-110 (subject to change). www.centertheatregroup.org. 213 972-4400.
**All Peter and the Starcatcher production photos by Jenny Anderson.