Saturday, March 24, 2007


Is a new musical from the creators of LES MISERABLES based apparently on real historical events involving an Irish woman who manages to overcome gender prejudice, gain the respect of the men in her clan, and become a pirate/freedom fighter. There’s a BIG SET, and there are BIG SONGS. There’s a lot of that Irish clomp-dancing that people just go crazy for, and that damned Irish-sounding flute/pipe thing that we’ve been hearing since “My Heart will Go On.” There’s about 45 minutes of plot blown up to fill 2 and a half hours, and enough simplistic nattering about female empowerment to fill a lifetime’s worth of Lifetime movies of the week. All this, and Queen Elizabeth I too.

The score is memorable, in the sense that it keeps triggering your memories of other songs. Echoes of LES MIS are all over the place, big power sung chorus numbers meant to inspire Big Feelings, and tender little power ballads that keep threatening to turn into “My Heart Will Go On.” One extended wedding celebration number sounds like a remix of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia." Bits and pieces of EVITA and WICKED, and most bizarrely PACIFIC OVERTURES can be heard, and it doesn’t help the evening at all. I just kept wishing that I was actually watching EVITA and WICKED and PACIFIC OVERTURES and SOUTH PARK: BIGGER LONGER AN D UNCUT and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and even LES MIS instead of THE PIRATE QUEEN.

The similarities to WICKED get to be rather pronounced, especially in the second act, as the focus shifts to the relationship between Queen Glinda/Elizabeth and Pirate Queen Elphaba/Grace. Bits of staging and certain lighting effects feel plagiarized from WICKED, as well as from LES MISERABLES (a scene of pathetic beggarly types swarming out of a trap door led the man sitting next to me to laugh out loud and say “Oh, no, this isn’t ripped off from LES MIS at all!”).

And what isn’t ripped off is often downright hilarious. A song entitled “Boys Will Be Boys” sung by the Pirate Queen’s brutish and arranged fiancĂ© includes the deathless lyric “She’s confused about gender!” A later sequence involving the Big Bad British soldiers attacking a church during the christening of the Pirate Queen’s dear little newborn laddie is staged for Maximum Theatricality (Red Lights! Smoke! Chorus Boys With Spears! Choreographed Slow Motion Fighting!) and winds up inspiring Maximum Hilarity. And think about this. A “serious” theatrical production in the 21st Century actually contains the following lines of dialogue:

Impetuous Youth: I’ll make a woman of her!
Imperious Father: I hope she’ll make a man of you!

Simple fairness compels me to admit that there are some good things about the show. The sets are interesting, the lighting is interesting, the costumes are more than serviceable, if a bit too specifically intended to grab a tony for Costume Design. The cast does the very best they can with what they’ve been given, but you kind of wonder if they know how bad what they’ve been given really is. There’s a lot of head-tossing and noble posturing and grimacing to indicate suffering, and the British bad guys flick their capes a lot.

I could go on all day. In a nutshell, this is the kind of show your best friend’s mother will just love, never quite understanding why you’re laughing so hard at it.

1 comment:

Pooji said...

I saw a special about Grace O'Malley a couple of years ago at Milwaukee Irish Fest. Narrated by Lucy Lawless (Xena herself!), it was some European production (maybe BBC?) that they never aired in the US. But, in a tent, during a sweltering August heat wave, I saw it. With Irish step dancers pounding the boards a few stages over (drowning out the Harp Tent with their demonic homage to Michael Flatley), I watched the special about Ireland's own pirate queen. Sadly, Ms. Lawless did not narrate with a "Yiyiyiyiyiyiyiyiyiyiyiyiiii!" we had heard so many times on Xena:Warrior Princess.

Too bad the play is so bad. That, of course, just means I'd like to see it. How does is compare to CARRIE?

Oh, and the flute/pipe thing has been around since long before TITANIC. Marry into a family that's involved in running the world's largest Irish cultural festival (my wife volunteers there; her mother is the Exe. Director; her brothers volunteer there; her uncle....), and you will hear the tin whistle. A lot. Unless it's being drowned by those demonic step dancers.