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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Theater review: How I Became a Pirate

Posted By on Thu, Feb 3, 2011 at 9:46 AM

After mustering three pirate crews in the past three seasons – for Peter Pan, Treasure Island, and now for How I Became a PirateChildren’s Theatre of Charlotte falls under suspicion of harboring a plaque that sums up its hidden agenda: The Buccaneer Stops Here. Not a problem, for if the denizens of ImaginOn wish to claim that swashbuckling pirates are a prime specialty of the house, they’ll get no argh-ument from me.

Though we’re repeatedly told that pirates do not sing showtunes unless they wish to walk the plank, How I Became a Pirate is a musical adaptation of the 2003 book by Melinda Long. While there’s nothing in Alyn Cardarelli and Steve Goers’s score to rival the showtunes Milt Skeeter threatens to sing – from Sound of Music, 42nd Street, and Cats – there are a couple of pleasing outbreaks of revelry, most notably “Talk Like a Pirate,” that enable director Ron Chisholm to lavish his choreographic skills upon us.

All in the service of a story that begins when Captain Braid Beard and his crew are beached on Myrtle Beach. There they encounter Jeremy Jacobs, your up-to-date pre-teen practicing with his soccer ball on the shore. Should Jeremy heed the call of the pirate life, or should he go along to soccer practice, forgoing the high seas, the experience of a typhoon, and burying the obligatory treasure. Tough choice, so Jeremy comes on board with his soccer ball.

Over the course of a voyage that clocks in tidily under an hour, the pirates learn as much from Jeremy as Jeremy learns from them. Like so many of the old fairytales, there is a subterranean dialectic between the thrills of dangerous, unforeseen adventures and the beckoning warmth of civilized security and humdrum everyday life.

To keep the clash on equal terms, a child of considerable charm – as a teacher and a learner – is desirable. Chisholm has found his boy in Sam Faulkner, a 12-year-old who radiates Jeremy’s innocence, eagerness, and joy. We easily accept Jeremy’s rapid ascent to the lofty perch of Captain’s pet because Faulkner accepts or repels the grumbling corrections from the other crew members with inextinguishable cheer.

These swabs are nicely delineated. Josh Looney’s accent roams the sunnier climes of Europe as Jacque LaToe, Barbi Van Schaick chronically loses her grip on her pirate barbarity as Milt Skeeter, and Chaz Pofahl brings his Tarradiddle pedigree to the malingering Wheezing Stephen McGee.

Mildly dramatic tensions are sustained aboard the pirate ship by Jeremy Shane as Captain Braid Beard and James Dracy as the rebellious Stubby Barbosa – likely the perpetrator cited by the posted notice that says “22 days since last mutiny.” Kinser struts around regally in Jennifer Matthews’ most impressive costume design, stowing a complete set of seafaring tools in his glittering right boot. His voice resounds with robust command, yet he’s credibly soft-hearted to young Jeremy. Dracy, on the other hand, revels in evil, but only after he softens his overall impact by taking a lead role in the pre-show shenanigans.

Crowning the handsome production is the imposing pirate vessel by set designer Anna Sartin, with a spacious deck, forecastle, and main mast, all of which revolved to reveal the pirates’ sleeping quarters below-deck. Big crisis down there, for as the song says, “Pirates Never Tuck You In.”

Shiver me timbers, but that’s tough for Jeremy to swallow – and tougher for the brawny Captain to enforce.

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