Best-selling author Ridley Pearson's young daughter had a simple question about one of literature's most well-known characters, but it would be the spark of something unexpected.
"She said, 'How did Peter (Pan) meet Captain Hook in the first place?' There are a lot of unanswered questions," Pearson says. "I had already been thinking, there's got to be a book in here."
That idea and an unlikely creative collaboration is what led to the children's book Peter and the Starcatcher in 2004. This origin story about "the boy who never grew up" later flew off the pages and onto the stage, making it to Broadway in 2012 and walking away with a handful of Tony Awards. After completing a successful Broadway run, Peter and the Starcatcher is now on its second national tour, and the production comes to the Lexington Opera House this weekend.
Before it hit the stage, there was quite a process to get the story on the page. Pearson, a best-selling novelist of suspense thrillers, was also a member of the group Rock Bottom Remainders, a literal band of authors featuring writers such as Stephen King, Matt Groening, Barbara Kingsolver and Pulitzer Prize-winning humor columnist and author Dave Barry.
Never miss a local story.
Pearson thought Barry would be perfect to help bring his idea for a Peter Pan origin story to life.
"When we started this out, it was Ridley's idea," Barry says. "I honestly think neither one of us had any shred of confidence that we ever knew what we were doing. We never tried to write a young adult fiction book where we looked up the rules for that or the guidelines for that. We just wrote a book that we wanted to read."
Pearson adds, "We wanted to write a book that was adventuresome and exciting but had a light children's touch to it."
When Pearson and Barry were writing Peter and the Starcatcher, they both thought it could be made into a major film. The stage wasn't an afterthought; it was a non-thought.
"We thought there was a movie in there," Barry says. "You always think there is a movie in here when you write a novel. I never in a million years thought there was a play in here."
To their pleasant surprise, when Tony Award-winning playwright Rick Elice (Jersey Boys) came to them to adapt the play to the stage, something very different but equally wonderful emerged.
"We write a fairly conventional young adult story for kids," Barry says. "Rick Elice wrote a very funny story for adults. Our story wasn't meant to be that funny. There's more jokes in that play than any play I'd ever seen."
Pearson adds, "Dave nudged me and said, 'Where was this guy when we were outlining the book?'
"It isn't just our book, it's kind of an homage to Barrie (J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter and Wendy) and other things. There's a lot of things that are different, and yet, you feel like it's the book."
Audiences who come to see Peter and the Starcatcher will get to learn how the notorious pirate Black "Stache" Moustache became Captain Hook; how an unnamed orphan became Peter Pan; how The Lost Boys were formed; and discover Peter's relationship with Molly Aster, Wendy's mother.
The comedic play has gained many fans since it debuted on Broadway, and you can count Luanne Franklin, program director of Lexington Opera House, among them.
"It's one of my favorites," she said. "Like most patrons, I knew very little about the play when I first took my seat in New York. I was not only so pleasantly surprised but I was so entertained.
"You're so impressed how they can create all they do with almost just child's play".
When talking about Peter and the Starcatcher's theatrical success, Barry and Pearson half-jokingly say they have enjoyed basking in the glow of its success. They are not only proud of the origin story they created but the performance art their story has become.
"Rick (Elice) made a really special piece of theatre, and it's beloved everywhere it goes," Pearson says. "I think people like funny, they like smart, they like to have their imaginations engaged. It's kind of an unexpected little treasure."