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A CurtainUp Review
The Pirate Queen
The Pirate Queen Docks At Broadway's Hilton

Stephanie J. Block
Stephanie J. Block (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Pirate Queen-Balgord
Linda Balgord
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
I was scheduled to see the penultimate press performance of Pirate Queen the day before its official opening but leading lady Stephanie Block became ill. I re-scheduled for Sunday's matinee but seems that the flu has hit more cast members and press dates have been moved up yet another week (though from all I've heard Block's understudy Kathy Voytko is excellent). By the time I finally did get to the Hilton, New York was hit by stormy weather and I could have used a boat to navigate Forty-Second Street and with some subway stations flooded, my subway ride home took too long —an unintended parallel to the two and a half-hour long show.

Despite the bad weather the Hilton was packed with fans of Riverdance fans and the easy-listening epics of Boublil and Schonberg. Clearly the fallout from the early reviewers' almost uniform pans has not resulted in the shipwreck predicted and this $20million potboiler is likely to stay afloat —not years, like Les Miserables or Miss Saigon, but at least through Spring or even the summer tourist season.

Larry Bommer astutely summed up the show's strengths and weaknesses when it debuted in Chicago. And while musical veteran Richard Maltby Jr. has since helped Boubil and Schonberg to tweak and sharpen their epic, and the musical staging has probably been sharpened by Graciela Daniele's boarding the ship, what was true then is true now, so I don't have much to add to the original review .

The show's plot is still too cursory to do justice to the story of Grace (Grania) O'Malley, more a Harlequin historical romance with music and dancing than the operatic musical it aims to be. The songs soar but fade from memory as quickly as the ample smoke enveloping the stage (that smoke even turned into a raging fire thanks to Kenneth Posner's expert lighting design). Eugene Lee's scenic design is as spectacular at the Hilton as it was at the Cadillac Palace and Martin Pakledinaz's costumes, especially the ones for Queen Elizabeth, as eye poppingly gorgeous. If for no other reason, than a chance to wear all that incredible finery, were I a musical diva, I'd definitely prefer being Elizabeth than Grania. That said, Stephanie J. Black is an attractive, agile heroine and her voice is lovely. Balgord is less athletic (those gowns demand stateliness rather than agility) but amusing as the virgin queen, as is her villainous adviser and would-be suitor William Youmans.

Unlike my Chicago colleague I thought the staging of the women's diplomatic powwow behind the map-decorated scrim screen was great fun and made up for hearing what they said. On the other hand I agree that the real star turns came from the generous doses of Irish Step dancing. As my companion who never saw Riverdance put it " It's as if you're getting two shows for one ticket." Not a bad thing when you consider the price of those tickets.

I left the Hilton wondering what the wonderful little Irish Rep Theater in Chelsea would do with Morgan Llwelyn's novel Grania - She King of the Irish Sea. To be sure, a production helmed by its artistic director Charlotte Moore wouldn't come close to offering Broadway style pyrotechnics, but you'd surely care more about this interesting woman than her counterpart in the mega musical.

Hilton Theater, West 42nd St.
Music by Claude-Michel Schõnberg
Book and Lyrics by Alain Boublil, Richard Maltby, Jr. and John Dempsey
Based upon the novel, Grania - She King of the Irish Sea by Morgan Llywelyn
Directed by Frank Galati
Irish Dance Choreographer: Carol Leavy Joyce
Associate Choreographer: Rachel Bress
Musical Staging by Graciela Daniele
Associate Director: Tara Young
Additional choreography by Mark Dendy
Musical Director: Julian Kelly
Cast: Stephanie J. Block ( Grace O'Malley), Hadley Fraser (Tiernan), Linda Balgord (Queen Elizabeth I), Marcus Chait (Donal), Jeff McCarthy (Dubhdara) and William Youmans (Bingham)
The cast of 39 also includes Nick Adams, Richard Todd Adams, Caitlin Allen, Sean Beglan, Timothy W. Bish, Jerad Bortz, Troy Edward Bowles, Grady McLeod Bowman, Rachel Bress, Don Brewer, Kimilee Bryant, Alexis Ann Carra, Aine Ui Cheallaigh, Noelle Curran, Bobbie-Ann Dunn, Brooke Elliott, Christopher Garbrecht, Eric Hatch, Cristin J. Hubbard, David Koch, Timothy Kochka, Jamie LaVerdiere, Joseph Mahowald, Tokiko Masuda, Padraic Moyles, Brian O'Brien, Kyle James O'Connor, Michael James Scott, Greg Stone, Katie E. Tomlinson, Daniel Torres, Jennifer Waiser and Briana Yacavone.
Sets: Eugene Lee
Costumes: Martin Pakledinaz
Lighting: Kenneth Posner
Sound, Jonathan Deans
Hair Design:, Paul Huntley
Makeup: Angeline Avallone
Fight Director: J. Stephen White
Special effects: Greg Meeh
Aerial Sequence Design: Paul Rubin
Vocal arrangements: Julian Kelly
Associate Musical Director: Brian Connor
Aerial Sequence Design: Paul Rubin
Fight direction by J. Steven White Running Time: Approx. 2 1/2 hours with intermission
Hilton Theatre, 213 W. 42nd St., 212-307-4100
From: 3/06/07; opening 4/05/07—Last performance 6/17/07
Tues to Sat at 8:00pm; Wed and Sat at 2:00pm; Sun at 3:00pm
Tickets:$51.25 - $111.25
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at April 15th matinee
Musical Numbers
Act One
Act One
  • Prologue/Grace (Grania) O'Malley and Tiernan
  • The Pirate Queen / Dubhdara, Tiernan, Grace (Grania) O'Malley, Evleen, Oarsmen and Company
  • Woman/ Grace (Grania) O'Malley
  • The Storm /Company
  • My Grace/ Dubhdara and Grace (Grania) O'Malley
  • Here on This Night / Grace (Grania) O'Malley, Tiernan and Crew
  • The First Battle /Grace (Grania) O'Malley, Tiernan, Dubhdara and Company
  • The Waking of the Queen / Queen Elizabeth I and Ladies-in-Waiting
  • Rah-Rah, Tip-Top Queen Elizabeth I, Sir Richard Bingham and Lords and Ladies-in-Waiting
  • The Choice Is Mine/ Grace (Grania) O'Malley, Dubhdara, Chieftain O'Flaherty, Tiernan, Donal O'Flaherty and Company
  • The Bride's Song/ Grace (Grania) O'Malley, Evleen and Women
  • Boys'll Be Boys/ Donal O'Flaherty and Mates and Barmaids
  • The Wedding/ Grace (Grania) O'Malley, Tiernan, Donal O'Flaherty, Dubhdara, Chieftain O'Flaherty, Evleen and Company
  • I'll Be There/ Tiernan
  • Boys'll Be Boys (Reprise)/ Donal O'Flaherty, Mates, Grace (Grania) O'Malley and Chieftain O'Flaherty
  • Trouble at Rockfleet / Grace (Grania) O'Malley, Tiernan, Donal O'Flaherty, Sir Richard Bingham and Company
  • A Day Beyond Belclare / Grace (Grania) O'Malley, Tiernan, Donal O'Flaherty and Company
  • Go Serve Your Queen/ Queen Elizabeth I and Sir Richard Bingham
  • Dubhdara's Farewell/ Dubhdara and Grace (Grania) O'Malley
  • Sail to the Stars / Grace (Grania) O'Malley, Tiernan, Donal O'Flaherty, Evleen and Company
Act Two
Act Two
  • It's a Boy /. Grace (Grania) O'Malley, Tiernan, Donal O'Flaherty, Evleen, Majella and Sailors
  • Enemy at Port Side / Grace (Grania) O'Malley, Tiernan, Donal O'Flaherty, Evleen, Majella and Sailors
  • I Dismiss You / Grace (Grania) O'Malley, Donal O'Flaherty and Sailors
  • If I Said I Loved You / Tiernan and Grace (Grania) O'Malley
  • The Role of the Queen / Queen Elizabeth I, Sir Richard Bingham and Lords and Ladies-in-Waiting
  • The Christening/ Evleen, Grace (Grania) O'Malley, Tiernan and Company
  • Let a Father Stand By His Son/ Donal O'Flaherty, Grace (Grania) O'Malley, Sir Richard Bingham, Tiernan, Evleen and Company
  • Surrender / Sir Richard Bingham, Tiernan, Queen Elizabeth I and Company
  • She Who Has All/ Queen Elizabeth I, Grace (Grania) O'Malley, Tiernan, Sir Richard Bingham and Company
  • Lament/ Grace (Grania) O'Malley, Majella, Eoin and Company
  • The Sea of Life/ Grace (Grania) O'Malley and Company
  • Terra Marique Potens/ Queen Elizabeth I, Grace (Grania) O'Malley and Sir Richard Bingham
  • Woman to Woman / Queen Elizabeth I, Grace (Grania) O'Malley and Company
  • Behind the Screen/ Company
  • Grace's Exit / Queen Elizabeth I, Grace (Grania) O'Malley, Sir Richard Bingham and Company
  • Here on This Night/Finale/ Grace (Grania) O'Malley, Tiernan and Company

Chicago review By Lawrence Bommer

Grace O'Malley defended her country, and her culture, against occupation by a foreign power in a way that was unknown for a woman in that time and had, by any standard, the most romantic of lives.g— Boublil and Schonberg

For better and worse, fans of Les Miz and Miss Saigon will find even more happy hunting grounds in Schonberg's latest 150-minute mega-musical. Like the former, it's fueled by sympathy for the underdog, here the oppressed 16th century Irish, their clan ethic epitomized by Grania O'Malley. This true-life Gaelic freedom-fighter and female pirate chief defied her sex and her enemies, confronting Queen Elizabeth herself and forging a truce between the hostile islands.

Like Miss Saigon, The Pirate Queen deals in misplaced love—but with a happy ending: Grania and her childhood chum Tiernan rise above her terrible marriage to a cowardly West Irish clan lord and live on as booty-craving corsairs exploiting the Irish Sea. Unlike Miss Saigon,Queen has a strong feminist undercurrent, celebrating two strong women who, unlike Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots, neither feared each other's power nor denigrated each other's achievements.

Rumored at a $20 million budget, Frank Galati's regional staging, which premiered Oct. 29, one-ups the street barricades and helicopter of previous blockbusters with a pirate ship whose masts frame the stage and whose sails allow for daring gymnastics feats. Arguably, the best pyrotechnics are the eruptions of Irish step-dancing that test the limits of contagious enthusiasm, (The Riverdream producers are, not surprisingly, the creators of "Riverdance.") Performed at a wedding and even a funeral, the rapid-fire hoofing to Schonberg's pseudo-Gaelic score, choreographed by Carol Levy Joyce, alternates with Renaissance galliards at the court of Elizabeth and boom-box rousers for the fight scenes, as shaped by J. Steven White and Mark Dendy.

Resembling Maureen O'Hara at her loveliest, Stephanie J. Block's plucky Grania rises to such power ballads as "The Choice is Yours," while valiant Hadley Fraser brings a soaring, leather-lunged tenor to Tiernan's equally daunting "I'll Be There." As the obligatory noble patriarch, Jeff McCarthy waxes wise as Grania's father. William Youmans all but twirls his moustache as unscrupulous Sir Bingham. An equally vile Marcus Chait is Grania's wretched, womanizing louse of a husband. Finally, playing Grania's great rival, Chicago favorite Linda Balgord's Elizabeth indulges in a killer vibrato. Her warbles imitate period motets but her imperious confidence is as contemporary as Oprah. Gorgeously costumed and louder than life, the athletic cast of 42 supply both scale and detail.

But anyone who doesn't already crave Boublil and Schonberg's easy-listening musicals (and I'm one) will find familiar shortfalls. The rapid-fire plot is too swift to let us care for the characters, yet short-changes the legend's most important event, the real-life encounter between Grania and Elizabeth. (Why can't we hear what they said when Pirate Queen speculates so freely about the rest of Grania's career?) Overloaded with unearned emotion, the songs come out of nowhere and often go there, hobbled with clumsy lyrics and forced scansion. You end up dazzled, exhausted, impressed and exalted —but rarely moved.
Composer: Claude-Michel Schonberg
Lyricist: Alan Boublil and John Dempsey
Directed by Frank Galati
Cast: Stephanie J. Block (Grania), Hadley Fraser (Tiernan), Jeff McCarthy (Dubhdara), Linda Balgord (Queen Elizabeth I), William Youmans (Bingham), Marcus Chait (Donal)
Sets: Eugene Lee
Lighting: Kenneth Posner
Costumes: Martin Pakledinaz
Sound: Jonathan Deans
Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes with an intermission
Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, Chicago; (312) 902-1400
From October 3 to November 26, 2006; opening October 29.
Tues, Thurs 7:30pm; Wed. 2 pm and 7:30 pm, Fri 8 pm, Sat at 2pm and 8 pm; Sun at 2pm
Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer based on October 20th performance
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