On the ship “The 5:00 Shadow,” we meet its crew of typical pirates led by the blustery Captain Backbeard. He is “The hairiest and smelliest pirate whoever lived.” After accidentally ripping his pants, he goes into the nearby town to get a new set of clothes.
Two effete tailors convince him to try a stylish, updated look. That includes a richly hued, dandified outfit and a pig to replace his escaped parrot, on his shoulder. This garb conflicts with The Pirate Council’s edicts and the sensibilities of his crew. Deciding to freely express himself, he resigns as captain. Staying on in the town, he gets a job in the teashop owned by a kindly old lady. What will happen to this fish out of water?
Matthew McElligott, Larry Tuxbury and Brian Sheldon’s book is a witty, smart and sharp take on pirate lore laced with a child’s sense of individuality, tolerance and inclusivity. It’s adapted from Mr. McElligott’s acclaimed series of children’s books.
McElligott, Mr. Tuxbury and Michael Musial’s lyrics are quite accomplished and chock of full of crafty rhymes such as scarf with barf. Mr. Musial’s euphorically tuneful music completes the marvelous score, that’s perfectly rendered by Barbara Musial’s skillful music direction.
Wearing a crinkly black wig and beard, utilizing his booming voice and his eyes twinkling, Jimmy Kieffer’s Captain Backbeard is a wonderful characterization combining comedy and subtle pathos.
With his grand smile, sunny countenance and expressive comic timing, Nick Martiniano makes a great impression as a chief crewmember and as one of the tailors.
Having the poise and presence of an old-time, Hollywood character actress such as Edna Mae Oliver or Beulah Bondi is the enchanting Carol Charniga as “The Little Old Lady.” Ms. Charniga mines her every moment of her stage time to optimum effect and enjoyment.
Taylor Hoffman and Alex Jones with their salty and flamboyant performances are standouts from among the ship’s crew.
Lucas Phayre-Gonzalez, Sarah Bitley and Robert Owen Dalton are the sly trio who wickedly portray “The Pirate’s Council” with the panache of 18th century buccaneers.
Ed Knight, James Q. Carola, Annaleigh Lester, Amanda Vogue, Taylor Fuld, Erica Harris, Amelia Morgan, Stephen McCauley Jr. and Alex Beard complete the colorful and very talented ensemble.
Pirates cavorting in the theater’s aisles and then joining the company onstage are delirious highlights of Musial’s lively direction that artfully maintains momentum. Michael Whitney swashbuckling choreography adds to the captivating mayhem.
A tattered curtain hung across the stage on a fraying rope, wooden platforms, planks, barrels and ladders are the chief components of Richard Finkelstein’s wonderfully inventive scenic design. These elements simply and vividly represent the ship as well as places in town including the tea and tailor shops.
Above the set are projected simple but clever images that match the actions. Maps, skulls and bones and nautical images are all periodically displayed.
Lighting designer Nick Solyom and sound designer Samantha Tirrell’s contributions dynamically enhance the production with inspired optical and aural effects.
Ranging from grimy, tattered seafaring garments to fantastically multi-colored creations, Lynne Roblin’s gorgeous costume design creatively depicts all of the characters.
Backbeard: The Musical is presented as part of the 2017 New York Musical Festival. This annual event showcases a wide selection of emerging works that are given small-scale productions as a testing ground for the future.
This sparkling presentation could transfer intact anywhere and enchant audiences of all ages.
Backbeard: The Musical (July 31-August 6, 2017)
The New York Musical Festival (NYMF)
Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-352-3101 or visit http://www.nymf.org
Running time: 70 minutes with no intermission