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Friday, March 16, 2007

 

Stage Addiction: The Pirate Queen

Here's everything you need to know about The Pirate Queen, which opens later this month at the Hilton Theatre. I witnessed a preview performance, so things may change between now and opening, but here's a rundown of the first 2 minutes of the show as it currently stands:

LIGHTS UP. Against a neon blue and pink sherbet backdrop that signifies a sunset on Broadway, a pan flute begins to play...or rather, a synthesizer imitating a pan flute does. A chorus boy flits onstage with (you guessed it) a pan flute, and does a quick interpretive dance while pretending to play it. Before you can wonder why in God's name the show is starting this way, there's a...

LIGHTING CHANGE. Suddenly backlit behind the scrim, we see her, The Pirate Queen. In shadow, she's 12 feet tall, turning a great wheel on her ship, a wind machine blowing her magnificent hair. Alright, pretty awesome! But then the scrim rises to reveal...

AN ACTRESS. Regular size, not 12 feet tall. Which is disappointing, because a 12 foot tall actress would be awesome! But this is Stephanie Block, who played Liza Minnelli in The Boy From Oz. She's got hair extensions now, and probably a larger dressing room. Oh, she's still there, turning that wheel (although there's no ship in evidence, which is really, really weird...a wheel, but no ship?). Not to worry, because then there's...

17,000 FOG MACHINES. All going off at once. I immediately begin to worry if the invisible ship is on fire, but I decide that the fog is not pirate arson. It's just there to set some some of dream-like mood. Stephanie continues to steer. The pan flute plays. Then...

AN OFFSTAGE VOICE CALLS! In a terrible Irish brogue, someone calls TPQ's name. "Grayceh! Grayceh Oh Malley!" She looks offstage, and gets an impish grin on her face...it's clearly the leading man coming to find her. So what does she do? She hides behind the big steering wheel and stops steering. (I guess the invisible ship is now on autopilot.) The leading man, with a stubby five o'clock shadow and pants that are too tight, runs on looking for her. It takes about ten seconds -- dude, are you blind? She's right over there! -- but eventually he spies her. She slowly stands...they lock eyes and smile...and then...the romantic music swells...and then...the fog builds...and then...

THEY SWORDFIGHT. Yes. They draw swords and fight. But not for too long, just enough to establish that TPQ's a tomboy, a fair lassie who can give as well as she gets. She's tough, understand? Get it? Get it? But as the two fighters come together in a hard-fought clinch...they pause...and...she wilts in his arms, drops the sword, and they kiss. Ah, she's a tomboy...but also a girly girl! Everything's fine, no lesbian pirates here! But suddenly we hear...

CELTIC DRUMBEATS. Pounding. Boom. Boom. Suddenly 20 male chorus boys come from backstage, marching in rhythm to the beat and pounding the oars they are holding on the floor. (Yes, I said oars. They are all now holding oars. I guess we now paddle the invisible boat?) The dancers line up in formation, and advance toward the front of the stage. A big finish and...they come to a halt. Silence. And then, without warning...

THEY RIVERDANCE. Yes. Because they're Irish, you see.


If you haven't completely lost your lunch over that barrel of sexist cliches and Irish-lite nonsense, there's a lot more for you in the nearly 3 hours of The Pirate Queen. Yes, the creators still have time to fix things. And to be fair, the actors are fine, and there's talented designers doing solid work. But the book, music and lyrics -- the heart of the enterprise -- are just terrible. The music doesn't sound Irish; more like Les Miz: The Next Generation, without one hummable song in its entire score, and the far-too-obvious lyrics will give intelligent people a headache in their simplicity. Worst of all, the themes of female empowerment are a complete sham, draped in the shackles of patriarchy...sure, she can be a Pirate Queen, but she also needs to be a Doting Wife and Tender Mother too. It's a shame: there's a lot of talent, a lot of enthusiasm, and a lot of money being wasted on subpar material. I hope they are working overtime to fix it.

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