Review: “How I Became a Pirate” at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

My 6-year-old godson and my 3.5-year-old goddaughter took me to see “How I Became a Pirate” at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis this past Saturday afternoon. This one time, I am going to break my rule of never writing about kids’ shows.

Why? Because I loved it. I admired the performers and I admired the work of director Ty Stover and the design team. More about them in a minute.

I also loved the story itself, which was joyful and funny and cute while honoring the complexity of life: Adventure and challenges are essential, but so are comfort and stories and good night kisses, at any age.

Part of an adult’s life task, I am beginning to realize, is to learn how to thrive in the complex middle of all that.

Mind you, the boy in the story, Jeremy Jacobs (exuberantly portrayed by Jaddy Ciucci), makes the age-appropriate decision to go back home and stay a child a while longer after his glorious foray into piratehood.  This is also satisfying.

What the Show Is About

I borrowed the book this morning from my local public library but I had not read it yet when I saw the show, so I thought Jeremy was playing in his room at the beginning, not at the beach.  It doesn’t matter.  He meets Captain Braid Beard (Jonah Winston) and his crew and they invite Jeremy to join them in burying a chest of treasure.

They teach him pirate’s lingo and other important things and soon Jeremy is swinging from the yardarm like he was born to it.

But…no one tucks the pirates in when it’s time for bed. For this and other reasons, Jeremy eventually decides to go back home, just in time for soccer practice.

The show (book, music, and lyrics by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman) is based on a picture book written by Melinda Long with illustrations by George Shannon.

Artistic Considerations

The book is a very fun read, but the show entranced me.

I loved the songs, for one thing. And under the music direction of accompanist Teresa O’Connell, the six cast members do a great job of singing them. More than once I wanted to kick up my heels and join in.

Each of the five pirates gets his own distinct personality in the show, too, and the actors in this production deftly bring them to life. AJ Morrison plays the scary-sensitive Sharktooth. Thomas Cardwell plays Pierre, the passionate cook.  Patrick Mullen is meek/absent-minded Swill. Benjamin Schuetz plays Max. Forgive me: I didn’t pay much attention to Max’s personality because I was so distracted by his attractive bare chest.

Tall, deep-voiced Captain Braid Beard is the most imposing on stage and up close, but after the show I saw actor Jonah Winston interacting with even the tiniest pirate wannabes in a not-too-scary way.

These photos were all taken by me with my trusty iPhone in the lobby after the show. I didn’t realize I hadn’t gotten a picture of Jeremy until after we got home. (Drat!) Well, anyway, adult Jaddy Ciucci’s high-pitched singing voice blends well with the pirates’ while remaining distinct from them.  Jaddy makes you believe that it’s all really happening, and that it could happen to you, too, which is a very uplifting feeling.

Kenny Shepard’s goofy-precise choreography fits the adventure well, too. It is a fun mix of rough-and-tumble Peter Pan and formal-dutiful Gilbert and Sullivan – or something – plus Kenny’s own unique contributions. The actors execute it admirably. I especially loved the human conveyor belt part.

James Schumacher’s clever scenic design makes for an easy transition from the home world to the pirate ship but it is the rope swing, and the actors’ seemingly easy yet controlled use of it, that made my inner kid think this is one of the coolest sets of all time.

There are no paper programs and my attempt to photograph the sign on the wall of the lobby did not capture all of the information clearly, so unfortunately I can’t tell you who designed the lighting, sound, or costumes. However, I can tell you that a) there is an exciting (but not scary) lightning-and- thunder storm, b) sometimes the background music makes it hard to hear what the characters are saying when they’re just speaking, but just keep listening and you’ll get the gist, and c) the costumes are just right for inspiring the audience to dress up like pirates, too.  (I.e., they are well-chosen but not too elaborate.)

Audience and Appeal Factors

Both the adult and the kid in me loved this show.  It is potentially appropriate for all ages and it is only around an hour long.  Since tickets to the show are included with the price of admission to the Museum, you risk nothing by taking your little ones in to the Lilly Theatre see if it is something they will sit relatively still for. My 3.5-year-old goddaughter had never been to a show before and although she whispered to her mother all the way through, her whispers were about the show, not about wanting to leave.

After the show, my godchildren’s mother said, “Shall we go meet the pirates?”

My goddaughter said, “Yes, and tickle them!”

I’m telling you, these are some lovable pirates.

My godson’s delighted takeaway was that it is okay to say “poop” when you’re talking about the poopdeck. (Let’s rhumba: “The poopy, poopy, poop-DECK! The poopy, poopy, poop-DECK!”)

Box Office, etc.

“How I Became a Pirate” runs Tuesday-Sunday through August 12 at the Lilly Theatre inside the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, with performances at 1pm and 3pm.

If you are a member of the Museum, you can make an advance reservation online (http://www.childrensmuseum.org/lilly-theater), which is what my godchildren’s mother always does for us, and which is what I recommend.  My godson and I have now been to four shows together, I think. Usually we get to the Museum in time to explore one area a bit before the show. This time we floated boats and played educationally with water.  Another time we built cars and towers with Legos. Another time we dug for dinosaur bones. Yet another time we rode the carousel. We have only scratched the surface of all there is there to do.

However, before we started this tradition, I went to a show at the Museum once by myself on a whim because one of my “destination actors” was in it. It was “sold out” but a staff member told me to go hang out by the doors of the theatre at show time because often people’s plans change.  I followed her advice and got in. Even if you are not a member (yet), don’t let that stop you from going to see this show if it interests you.

Good luck, matey! ‘See you at the theatres…

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

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