Singing and dancing pirates who aren’t stuck in a Disney theme park ride? Shiver me timbers and pipe me aboard, mateys! With rollicking fun, swashbuckling action and room enough for some heart-tugging moments, the new musical, Blackbeard, is ready to take no prisoners through the magic of musical theatre. The show is setting sail from Signature Theatre, and you’d better book passage or risk missing the boat for what may prove to be the musical hit of the summer.
Blackbeard takes one of the most famous pirates of all time and thrusts him into a world of adventure, fantasy, and danger, accompanied by the tuneful score and witty lyrics by the team of John Dempsey and Dana Rowe. Longtime patrons of Signature will recognize Dempsey and Rowe as the collaborators on The Fix, The Witches of Eastwick, and Brother Russia. This time, the duo has fashioned a delightful score that brings to mind elements of Broadway, sea-shanties, exotic rhythms, and even a dash or two of Gilbert and Sullivan.
While reveling in skullduggery of all sorts, it’s the theme of fathers and sons – by blood and by circumstances – that is the glue that holds the fun-filled show together for its brisk yet very full 90 minutes running time. Even if the show develops beyond this world premiere, I expect it will stick close to the hour and a half length, now that musicals like Come From Away and Million Dollar Quartet have made their own splashes.
All you need to know going in to Blackbeard is that the loveable rogue Edward Teach, Jr. has an image problem and a British Royal Navy problem. Neither his name, nor his nickname, strike terror in the hearts of one-and-all any more. On top of Blackbeard’s shrinking sea cred, the colonial government of Virginia sent Lt. Robert Maynard on a mission to eradicate the slippery pirate captain.
Blackbeard is scheduled to close July 14, 2019 at Signature Theatre. Details and tickets
But what is an adventure without a difficult quest to make things interesting and drive the plot around the globe? Without revealing too many details, Blackbeard and his ragtag crew set out to find and retrieve three rare and mystical jewels from far flung corners of the world – the Diamond of Bombay, the Pearl of the Orient, and the Sapphire of the Orient – in order to present them to a powerful sea witch and restore Blackbeard’s status as the pirate mega-star.
What happens along the way is grand and dangerous adventure filled with enchanted beings, powerful elements and even some immortals. Audiences of all ages can take enjoyment from this show – with enough “wink-wink” humor and sentimental moments for the grown-ups; and plenty of sword-wielding clashes and amazingly funny sight gags for younger patrons.
Director Eric Schaeffer has cast a first class group of performers to bring the story to life, starting with the charming and virile Chris Hoch in the title role. Hoch – a Broadway veteran – has the role of a lifetime and the time of his life as Teach/Blackbeard. Perfectly embodying the rascally pirate, Hoch easily handles the comic timing, physical demands, and the vocal challenges of the huge role. Beginning with the introductory patter song “Who is Blackbeard?” Hoch’s grand baritone wraps around Dempsey and Rowe’s music and lyrics effortlessly, especially in the anthem, “I Took the Journey.”
Supporting Hoch is a whose who of Signature veteran performers. Kevin McCallister (Grand Hotel, Ain’t Misbehavin, etc.) is Blackbeard’s reliable sidekick Caesar. Lawrence Redmond, as both crew member Samuel and the hilarious and pivotal Old Man, makes a strong impression. Bobby Smith (Grand Hotel, Passion) is funny as a bumbling pirate and magnificent as Norse god Odinn, who gets to sing the tongue-twisting and humorous drinking song “Valhalla” with the other members of the cloud kingdom. Another veteran of Grand Hotel, Ben Gunderson, doubles up as a crew member and Lt. Maynard, Blackbeard’s primary antagonist. Newcomer Rory Boyd makes for a delightfully innocent new crew member Roger whom Blackbeard takes under his wing as they buckle their swash across the seven seas.
Women get some memorable moments too, starting with Maria Egler, who practically glides across the stage as La Mer – think Nimue in Camelot – a benevolent and bewitching muse to the pirate adventures. In the rival corner, providing more challenges to Blackbeard and crew, is the hellbent for revenge enchantress Dominique, strikingly performed by frequent leading lady Nova Y. Payton. With her usual laser-like precision and powerful vocals, Payton brings even more danger and doom to the story. Aw Sal Secka cuts a dashing figure as the Indian goddess Kali Maa, turning in a dervish of a performance with the vibrant “Samsara,” which ends in a spectacular death by fire.
In strong Signature fashion, Schaeffer’s collaborators turn in excellent work all around. Set designer Paul Tate DePoo, III, has transformed the Max Theatre into a location fit for pirates and their adventures – evoking the deck and bow of a ship as well as the many exotic ports of call. Lighting designer Chris Lee uses lighting as a magic lantern to illuminate and punctuate the scenes, helping to elevate the scenic elements into the realm of phantasmagorical. Not to be outdone by the others, Erik Teague works costume magic with leather, silk, and sail cloth, providing a winning and witty wardrobe that helps complete the illusion of pirates from the 1700s taking the sea again to reclaim their glory.
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Blackbeard joins a steady series of new musicals that bring together the theatrical elements in a rousing manner poised to enthrall audiences of all ages. And in an interesting sidebar, now even hearing impaired audience members have an easily accessible means to enjoy the show: GalaPro, a free app providing closed captioning, dubbing, audio description, and amplification to the patron’s cell phone. (Assisted Listening Devices and ASL interpretation are also available.) Just more ways to expand the enjoyment of a new and exciting show.
Blackbeard . Book and lyrics by John Dempsey . Music by Dana Rowe . Directed by Eric Schaeffer . Featuring: Jessica Bennett, Rory Boyd, Ian Anthony Coleman, Maria Egler, Ben Gunderson, Chris Hoch, Kevin McAllister, Bob McDonald, Christopher Mueller, Nova Y. Payton, Lawrence Redmond, Awa Sal Secka, and Bobby Smith . Choreography by Matthew Gardiner . ?Music Director and co-orchestrator David Holcenberg . Co-orchestrator/keyboard programmer Scott Wasserman . Scenic Design: Paul Tate DePoo III . Costume Design: Erik Teague . Lighting Design: Chris Lee . Sound Design: Ryan Hickey . Wig design Anne Nesmith . Fight Choreography by Casey Kaleba . Stage Manager: Kerry Epstein . Produced by Signature Theatre . Reviewed by Jeff Walker.
Max Murray says
Blackbeard @ Signature Theatre closes