Mystery surrounds J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan. Why doesn't Peter want to grow up? How did he learn to fly? Most of all, why is he so dangerously capricious and undependable? If children's literature is a genre noted for demanding moral context, Peter is an odd hero indeed.

Peter and the Starcatcher (2012), an endlessly inventive play running through May 20 at Theatre Horizon, comes up with fantastical answers. In this Tony and Obie winner, based on the modern children's novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, playwright Rick Elice gives us Peter's backstory.

Starcatcher is a neverland of plot twists, but the heart of the story is this: Queen Victoria entrusts Lord Aster (Johnnie Hobbs Jr.) to keep magical, empowering stardust from falling into the wrong hands.

The hit Broadway show used an extensive set that playfully deconstructed theatrical art itself. Here, director Matthew Decker's set is minimal. He uses only the props he needs but retains major gag lines. (Off stage, you still hear "Mr. Grin," the big croc, "chew the scenery.")

Decker relies mainly on his splendid cast. Arch-villain Stache (Trey Lyford) is a poet full of malapropisms. Mel Krodman is a must-see as Smee, his hilarious pantomiming companion who moronically corrects him. Slank (Kevin Meehan) is a commanding presence as Stache's rival villain.

Alf (Samantha Rosentrater) is an old salt enamored of Mrs. Bumbrake (David Bardeen), an archetypal "dame pantomime" figure (think "Dame Edna"). Ted (Maggie Johnson), who is always hungry, and bossy-boots Prentiss (Ciera Gardner) are the other "lost boys" in this gender-shuffling show.

Boy and Molly are the tough roles. Leigha Kato makes Molly endearing without caricature traits to exploit (though Molly does, at times, speak Dodo, Porpoise, and Norse Code). Ben Grinberg achieves the same result with Boy, a fearful youth who learns the importance of courage and friendship.

Although Starcatcher is not usually considered a musical, there's enough music in this version for it to qualify as one. Wayne Barker provides several choral numbers, especially a knockout mermaid ensemble about the power of stardust. All night Amanda Morton, music director, plays piano, backed up by percussionist Michael McCoy Reilly.

The Theatre Horizon production of Starcatcher is a charming reprise of the verbal, take-no-prisoners comedy of Monty Python. Language, situations, and actors' antics are unpredictable and riotously funny. The show loves to lampoon moral inconsistencies of Victorian England with Python-like indirection.

Almost in passing, we come to understand that Boy is fatefully caught up in circumstances and only quixotically turns into Peter Pan. At the same time, Starcatcher implies its own moral for children: The best defense against the power-hungry is an unbridled imagination.


Peter and the Starcatcher

    • Through May 20 at Theatre Horizon, 401 DeKalb Street, Norristown. Tickets: $45. Information: 610-283-2230,