Buccaneers at the Children’s Theatre Company

September 16, 2012
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Bradley Greenwald as Captain Johnny JohnĂ© and Megan Fischer as Enid Arabella in “Buccaneers.” Photo: Dan Norman.

The Children’s Theatre Company sets sail this fall with Buccaneers by Liz Duffy Adams (book) and Ellen Maddow (music). Billed as a “swashbuckling pirate musical,” the show for children delivers on all the appurtenances you’d expect, with scrappy pirates (in this case, kids) swinging from ropes, stormy seas and a cruel (but funny) captain who insists his enslaved crew call him “Your Majesty.” But this show also has an almost political message (Imagine! of all things!) about how a democratic government operates, making good decisions and being true to oneself. Yes, democracy, peace and justice win this one, but not without impossible challenges to overcome.

Enid Arabella’s parents, played by Autumn Ness and Reed Sigmund, have fallen into hard times and feel it necessary to send their daughter to a boarding school as a charity case. Enid Arabella (Megan Fischer) decides to “seize my own destiny” and run away to become a pirate. Pirates conveniently appear at this point, and she is hauled away and threatened with death for attempting to steal their buried treasure.

She is defiant—and a clever girl with words—and she will not be quieted. When the captain retires to his cabin, and (we are told) downs a couple bottles of rum and passes out, she learns that the entire young crew faces death at the Captain’s hands when they grow up. With some very nearly leaving adolescence, taking action becomes urgent. She proposes to save herself and the entire crew. But how?

In the tradition of classic fairy tales, she tricks the captain by playing on his puffery. That works long enough for discord among the crew to arise, and the lesson on individual rights, compromise and decision-making ensues. Enid Arabella convinces them that they should no longer be pirates, but buccaneers. “What’s the difference? It’s just words,” one answers. “But there’s power in words,” she responds, and ultimately proves that it is so.

Act I closes with comments such as “let’s see what the morning brings,” and “at least we’ll never see Johnny Johné again.” Even the youngest in the audience didn’t need that dialog to know what Act II would bring. (Spontaneous comments from the audience supported my impression.) That’s good writing for kids: Molière technique at a child’s level.

Bradley Greenwald as Captain Johnny Johné must be having the time of his life as a villain destined to be done in by his own villainy. It’s the “plum” role in this cast. Fischer is truly delightful as our heroine, and she’s an amazing singer to boot.

In general, this is a well-written book for a children’s musical with good pacing, age-appropriate jokes and a positive message. The music was a fine fit for the underscore and dancing; the songwriting offered less than memorable melodies and lyrics. Marvelous costumes, all raggedy and sun faded, by Mary Anna Culligan, and an ambient and highly functional set by Joel Sass place us in this imaginative world.

If you’re particular about having your young child exposed to violence, you should be advised that there’s plenty of it threatened in this show. One might argue that the Captain is so utterly silly in other ways—and frequently laugh-out-loud funny—that his threats are not to be taken seriously. However, the entire premise of the plot hinges on what we are told is real danger, so, well, it could be confusing for the very young and sensitive. Otherwise, I say, “Arrrgh!” Your grade-schoolers will have a marvelous adventure.

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