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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
THE PIRATE QUEEN
at the Hilton Theater, New York

TAKING ON WATER
By David Lefkowitz


Every so often, The Simpsons will flay musical theater by sending Homer and his brood to attend some bloated, opera-style mega-musical, the crowd oohing and applauding even when the style is all bombast, the performances relentlessly earnest, and the presentation borderline ridiculous. Broadway's The Pirate Queen, for all its skill and occasional pleasures, would be right at home in the Springfield PAC.

 

The silliness starts early, what with pirates taking the stage, pounding their oars on the floor and launching into a jig. Were this a musicalization of Pirates of the Caribbean, or a more whimsical/spoofy piece, the oar-smacking might set off a knee-slapping good time. But Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schonberg and Richard Maltby,Jr., of Les Miz and Miss Saigon renown, have a serious, serious, serious story to tell. So they fill it up with thunderously loud tempests, booming cannons, swordplay, riverdancing, a briefly bawdy interlude and lots of rushing about, all to reach a climactic showdown that's all talk, and an ending that's happier than the other two shows. Nothing wrong with that, but it does mean the Pirate Queen could have been far more playful without sacrificing its story, themes or characters' legitimacy.

 

Based, with heavy revisions, on the true story of a 16th Century, female Irish chieftain, The Pirate Queen follows Grace O'Malley from sailing on her father's ship (and demanding to be treated like the other crew-members) to proving herself almost super-heroically strong and valiant. Soon she is commanding the vessel, but despite her ability to knock down most sexist barriers, she agrees to a marriage of convenience with the scion of the enemy O'Flaherty tribe, allowing both clans to unite against encroaching English tyranny. Her hubby's a ne'er-do-well, though, and her true love remains seaman Tiernan, who keeps his eye on O'Flaherty and, eventually, even trades his liberty for his beloved Grace.

This is standard operetta stuff, enlivened somewhat by the more political story, concerning Queen Elizabeth I, her desire to conquer Ireland, and her nettled fascination with a woman stronger and freer than she is. She then sends Sir Richard Bingham, a courtier, to capture the feisty femme and bring Ireland to heel.

Here, again, the musical hints at - but, alas, only toys with -- something quirkier. Though the real Bingham was, by most accounts, a shrewd and ruthless foe, as played by William Youmans in oily Captain Hook mode, the musical Bingham approaches comic relief. When Queen Elizabeth, who forces the Ireland assignment upon him only to capriciously turn on him after he's accomplished everything she's asked, we feel nearly as much sympathy for his predicament as we do for Grace and her boyfriend. He's Javert as foppish, put-upon mercenary. Amusing yes, but not quite an adversary in keeping with the show's sturm und drang.

As Grace, Stephanie J. Block is strong, convincing and noble, noble, noble. Sing she can, in typical Euro-musical style that's miked until it sounds like one long, keening note. Hadley Fraser's an appealing Tiernan; Marcus Chait does what he can with obnoxious O'Flaherty. Rather than have him wise up and become part of a real love triangle (i.e., reformed husband and father versus old beau), the authors keep him drunk and treacherous. A less expected choice, it also proves the less interesting one.

As with other Boublil-Schonberg musicals, The Pirate Queen is sung-through and swells with attractive if familiar-sounding melodies (e.g., the catchy "Boys Will Be Bo

 


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