by Steve Nardoni
Music and Lyrics by Michael Musial. Book and Lyrics by Matthew McElligott, Larry Tuxbury, and Brian Sheldon. Directed by Michael Musial. Presented by New York Musical Festival and Theater Institute at Sage at the Acorn Theater at Theater Row.
The New York Musical Festival (“Musicals Live Here) has provided over 14 years of resources and venues for emerging artists to develop and stage musicals. Backbeard was chosen as a Grand Jury Selection for the Festival. Based on Backbeard the Pirate children’s books , written and illustrated by Matthew McElligott, Backbeard: The Musical is the result of a collaboration among McElligott and,other faculty members and an alumnus, all from Sage College. The energetic ensemble cast includes 15 students and alumni from Sage.
Pirates of yore (like Captain Kidd, Calico Jack, Henry Morgan) and pirates of fiction (like Captain Hook, Long John Silver, and Jack Sparrow) invoke a sense of swashbuckling derring-do, adventure, toughness and individuality. In fact, on a recent sailing trip in Greece, the Irish husband of the cook on our catamaran declared constantly: “I wanna be a poirut”.
Well, the entire audience wanted to be a pirates after seeing this boisterous production, pulling out all the stops by conjuring up all sorts of pirate lore with a terrific score supporting quite a sweet story. Actually, in the audience as I was leaving, there were two ladies dressed flamboyantly and they confirmed they wanted to be pirates!
Backbeard, “the hairiest pirate who ever lived” is the captain of the ship “5 O’Clock Shadow,” crewed by, yes, a motley bunch of sailors who follow the Pirate Handbook to a T: they’re a joyous bunch of filthy, smelly, greedy, thieving sailors. Tis the Cap’n’s birthday and several noted crew members, Sweaty McGee, Mad Garlic Jack, and Scarlet Dubloon, remind Backbeard that the Pirate Handbook requires that the birthday boy must fight with his crew. The ensuing melee results in Backbeard losing his parrot (the bird quit!), not getting the ice cream he wanted, and ripping his pants. But the tailors he visits doff his traditional pirate garb and festoon him in a colorful ensemble, with a pig instead of a parrot on his shoulder, no less! So begins Backbeard’s foray into a world not expecting a pirate dressed so, and the changes his past perceptions undergo.
The show’s pace and theme is enhanced by swashbuckling songs with lyrics so incredibly witty, they earned more laughs than the spoken script. With clever songs like “A Pirate is a Rotten Thing to Be,” “Curse Those Pirates!” (“He’ll steal your stamp collection, and smash your piggy bank, he’ll give you pirate wedgies, then make you walk the plank”), and “This is How You Serve the Tea,” we were absorbed into the story.
More notable was the performance of the cast. The ensemble entered the stage, boisterously , athletic, rowdy and singing and dancing their hearts out. Jimmy Kiefer was perfect as the hairy sailor Backbeard, and on missing a note he forged ahead with humor and silliness. The ladies in the cast, particularly Taylor Hoffman, as Scarlet Dubloon, and Carol Charniga, as Little Old Lady, were charming in voice, and captivating (or scary) in demeanor. And Ed Knight as Taylor 1 and Nick Martiniano as Taylor 2 (“That will never do. Parrots are out! So last year!”) did a marvelous job channeling the prissy duo fussing over the new ensemble for Backbeard.
The lessons of the original Backbeard children’s books were standing up for one’s ideas, whether it be in fashion, friendships, or career choices like piracy. What a wonderful delivery system Backbeard: The Musical provides. And it confirms my deep and firmly held conviction that Broadway musicals (as this one might be), can teach us lessons and about life.
Remaining Dates: August 5 at 10:30 am & 1:30 pm and August 6 at 1 pm