New York City Theater
"The Pirate Queen"
The $16 million that "The Pirate Queen" is reputed to cost is ip there on the stage for all to see. The story of the 16th century legendary Irish heroine, Grace O’Malley, boasts a cast of 42 and enough scenery to capsize several galleons.
As befits a piece about Ireland, produced by the team that presented “Riverdance,” it’s also shot through with Irish step dancing. Now, I never thought I’d say this, being no fan of such floor-stomping, but choreographer Carol Leavy Joyce and musical stager Graciela Daniele afford some of the evening’s best moments.
Otherwise, this is a prosaic, heavy-handed, joyless re-telling of the clash between O’Malley, the Irish rebel, and Elizabeth I, the powerful ruler. At times, O’Malley’s story boils down to a triangle; loving one man, she’s forced to marry another. Of course, the first lad is loyal, the second a traitor. But she’s a feisty lass, even dragging herself out of bed in order to fight a battle after just having given birth.
Frank Galati’s direction takes flight in the evening’s most compelling scenes, those between O’Malley and Elizabeth. Here, in “She Who Has All” and “Woman to Woman,” the battle is joined and interest peaks. By this time, however, we’ve been subjected to Claude-Michel Schönberg’s repetitious music (despite good use of Irish pipe and English harpsichord) and doggerel lyrics by Schönberg, Alain Boublil, Richard Maltby, Jr. and John Dempsey. (Schönberg and Boublil are also responsible for “Les Miz” and “Miss Saigon.”)
Stephanie J. Block not only sings heck out of O’Malley but pumps energy into the role. Linda Balgord is a regal Elizabeth who even manages to move about in Martin Pakledinaz’s ornate costumes. Hadley Fraser is impressive as Grace’s love, Tiernan, as is William Youmans as an ambitious lord, but the terrific Jeff McCarthy is wasted as Grace’s dad.
As for eye candy, it’s the men’s manly chests and cod pieces that win out over the women’s cloaks. It’s that kind of show.
-- David A. Rosenberg
April 24, 2007