EmptyHilton Theatre, New York
The new musical "The Pirate Queen" has so many retro elements that it would qualify as a nostalgic revival if it wasn't a new show. This latest effort from the team of Alain Boubil and Claude-Michel Schonberg ("Les Miserables," "Miss Saigon") recalls in its sound, style, look and general aesthetic the overblown megamusicals that dominated Broadway two decades ago. Add, courtesy of producers Moya Doherty and John McColgan, enough Irish step dancing to fuel a revival of their own "Riverdance," and you have a motley recipe for an overbaked show.
There is no small amount of talent involved in the proceedings, including Frank Galati (director), Graciela Daniele (musical staging) and Richard Maltby Jr. (co-writer of the book and lyrics). But all their efforts, which have apparently been considerable since the show's tryout in Chicago, fail to infuse life into the noisy proceedings.
Set in England, the show relates the true-life tale of Grace "Grania" O'Malley (Stephanie J. Block), an Irish heroine who helped unite her country's warring clans to fight the oppressive English forces. The latter, personified here in the form of a wildly costumed Elizabeth I (Linda Balgord) and her arch-henchman, Sir Richard Bingham (William Youmans, delivering an entertaining, moustache-twirling performance), ultimately turn out to be no match for the plucky, indomitable Grace, who manages to achieve her heroics despite the prejudice she suffers because of her gender.
Adding to the intrigue is the romantic triangle that develops among Grace, her handsome lover Tiernan (Hadley Fraser) and the rakish husband (Marcus Chait) she has been pressured by her father (Jeff McCarthy) to marry in order to unify the Irish tribes.
Much of the show's action takes place on the roiling seas, and the vast stage of the Hilton Theatre has been outfitted with enough sailing regalia to qualify it as a nautical museum. When they're not breaking out into their heavily amplified clog dancing, the performers are generally climbing the ropes and rigging with such derring-do that one starts to be concerned about their health insurance.
Boubil and Schonberg's sung-through score has its soaring moments but fails to come up with the haunting melodies that made "Les Miz" such a Broadway staple. Not helping matters is the overly melodramatic book, which makes Errol Flynn's vintage pirate epics seem subtle by comparison.
But not to worry, because whenever the action threatens to stall, the performers stand straight, face the audience and literally pound both the stage and us into submission.
At the reviewed performance, Block delivered an admirably stirring and highly physical performance as Grace, at least for a brief while, as the apparently under-the-weather actress was replaced during the first act by her more-than-capable understudy, Kathy Voytko.
The supporting players delivered their broad turns with the appropriate gusto, but only a few, like Balgord's outrageously costumed Queen Elizabeth, were given the opportunity to provide their characters with any shadings.
Clearly no money has been spared for this lavish effort, with Eugene Lee's sets, Martin Pakledinaz's costumes, Kenneth Posner's lighting and Jonathan Deans' deafening sound design conspiring to create a perfect storm of distraction for the bored mind.
THE PIRATE QUEEN
Presented by Riverdream under the direction of Moya Doherty and John McColgan
Book: Alain Boubil, Claude-Michel Schonberg, Richard Maltby Jr.
Music: Claude-Michel Schonberg
Lyrics: Alain Boubil, Richard Maltby Jr., John Dempsey
Director: Frank Galati
Musical staging: Graciela Daniele
Set designer: Eugene Lee
Costume designer: Martin Pakledinaz
Lighting designer: Kenneth Posner
Sound designer: Jonathan Deans
Grace "Grania" O'Malley: Stephanie J. Block
Tiernan: Hadley Fraser
Queen Elizabeth I: Linda Balgord
Donal: Marcus Chait
Dubhdara: Jeff McCarthy
SIr Richard Bingham: William Youmans