My friend David and I met at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre on the northwest side of Indianapolis to see the Midwest premiere of “Treasure Island.” This thrilling new musical was based on the classic coming-of-age adventure novel by Robert Louis Stevenson. Director Marc Robin wrote the music for the show. Robin and actor Curt Dale Clark wrote the book and lyrics for it.
This show made my breath catch in my throat more than once. It just so perfectly captures the yearning for adventure that I remember myself having when I was young. Captures it…and satisfies it, with an exciting story, infectious songs (“Mutiny” stayed in my head for days afterwards!), magical design elements, and swashbuckling battles. (Fight direction by Adam Noble.)
Not that I am not still up for adventure in real life, mind you, but when I was younger, I ached for it, just as Jim Hawkins (Rick Desloge), the young hero of the story, does. His father always promised to take Jim with him on his sea voyages when he was old enough, but the play opens at the father’s funeral and Jim must now stay home forever and run the family business – the Admiral Benbow Inn – on his own. He now will never have adventures.
Or so it seems.
Very quickly, however, Jim finds himself in possession of a treasure map. Two adult gentleman friends – the amiable and proper Dr. Livesey (Curt Dale Clark) and the funnily fussy Squire Trelawney (J. R. Stuart) with his many magnificent wigs and outfits – eagerly agree to help young Jim find the treasure.
They hire a ship and a crew that includes a seemingly harmless one-legged man named Long John Silver (Jamie Jackson.) Jim tries to remind his friends that the dying man who led them to the map warned them to “beware of a man with only one leg,” but they hire Mr. Silver anyway to be the ship’s cook.
The crew includes several other characters that you just know are going to turn out to be trouble, based on their sung self-introductions: Israel Hands (Eddie Curry) can cut anyone you need cutting. Tom Morgan (Christopher Dickerson) can kill anyone you need killing with his bare hands. George Merry (Jayson Elliott) hiccups a lot, but he can dig or carry or bury anything you need buried. And Job Anderson (Dante’ J. L. Murray) is “a human key” – he can open any lock you need opening.
But disguised bad guys or no, soon the ship sets sail under the firm leadership of Captain Smollett (Mark Goetzinger.)
They cast off headed for Skeleton Island…and treasure!
Jim sings, “Look at me! I’m on adventure, and it’s not a fantasy!” I remember that heady feeling from my own youthful adventures. I love this show for reminding me of that part of myself.
I also love the show for reminding me that having adventures does not mean that one has to be a pirate, enticing as a pirate’s life may be. Life is not all or nothing. And, as Jim and Long John sing together, “Someday it will be clear, the reason I am here.”
The content of the show is immediately engaging. B&B’s public relations manager Patricia Rettig told me that the first 20-30 minutes of the show as it is being performed in Indianapolis is new, a re-write from the world premiere last year in Pennsylvania. The world premiere production focused on special effects since it was in a large theatre, but here in the B&B’s more intimate space, the show’s creators are developing the characters and story more.
I appreciate grand special effects and theatrical razzle-dazzle as much as the next person, but I also think that this smaller or more introspective or whatever-you-want-to-call-it version of the show is pretty darn spectacular. At the beginning, the house lights dim and men dressed in long, black capes and tricorn hats, and women in long, black dresses and veils, sweep down through the audience to the tightly-lit funeral on stage. They made me shiver with excitement before anything much had really happened! (Costume design by Brian Horton.)
The pleasure just continued to build from there. Paul Black’s layered lighting design is exquisite. The scary winds, haunting seagulls, and other elements of Daniel Hesselbrock’s sound design are very effective. The orchestra, conducted by Terry Woods, sounds like a lot more band than is actually up there on the small platform to the left of the stage.
(The orchestra includes Terry Woods on keyboard, Ernie Coleson on woodwinds, David Coleson on trumpet, Tim Kelly on percussion, and Kristy Templet on keyboard.)
There were several special effects that made me jump or gasp or “ooh!” in appreciation. (Elizabeth Stark is the stage manager. Technical direction by Bill Mollencupp.)
I only realized later when reading my program that the “women” at the funeral must have been played by men. This show has an all-male cast. Being in the presence of all that talented testosterone and listening to all of the rich, full, male voices throughout the evening is a treat.
Besides the singer-actors I have already mentioned, the cast includes:
- Peter Scharbrough as Redruth and Mr. Riddle
- Michael Davis as Mr. Alan and Mr. Davis (Scharbrough and Davis were pirates in the B&B’s production of “Peter Pan” last year, too!)
- Sam Weber as Abraham Gray
- Collin Poynter as Mr. O’Brien and Mr. Slyker
- Jamie Westberry as Mr. Hunger and Mr. Wyeth
- John Robert Armstrong as Mr. Joyce and Mr. Wolff
- Damien L. Geter as Akir
- Rex Arthur Wolfley as Mr. Arrow and Mr. Bridge
The set, designed by Michael Layton, is a treat, too. A treasure map borders the stage. The stage holds the funeral at first, and then the Admiral Benbow Inn, but then it spins into an intriguing ship, with the platform opposite the band’s platform turning into a crow’s nest.
In the second act the set becomes a deserted island covered in palm trees.
But is the island truly deserted?
No. Wacky Ben Gunn (Eddie Curry) is still there, even though his pirate “friends” left him there to die. He is a little goofy in the head, and hilariously hungry for certain foods…but not dead yet.
And he knows where the treasure is.
The treasure! Oh, I wish I had time to see this show again. I want to make time to read the original novel, too.
My friend David said that he thought the second act flowed better and was more interesting and action-filled than the first act, which spent a lot of time setting things up, but he enjoyed the whole experience.
I enjoyed both acts, too, very much. My only disappointment – and it was a small one – was that the final song took me out of the completely engaging story of “Treasure Island” and reminded me that I was at musical theatre. Long John Silver suddenly sings to the audience that “now the miracle will live in you.” Eventually the whole cast sings it. It was like being told how to feel about the show, or something. For me, it was too much.
But, as I say, this one quibble did not keep me from standing up to applaud with enthusiasm.
“Treasure Island” continues at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre through Sunday, May 17, 2009. To make a reservation, please call the Box Office at 317-872-9664.
Oh! I almost forgot: Our server was Shane Chuvalas. He was an excellent server, but even more than that I enjoyed the chance to chat with him a teeny bit about his work as an actor. David and I both loved his work in “Evil Dead: the Musical,” for example.
Chef Odell Ward’s buffet this time included something called “Arbabi Potatoes” that made me swoon, they were so rich and yummy. If that’s what pirates eat, shiver me timbers and sign me up.
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com