OREM — Even though they don’t realize it at the time, children live in a magical period in their lives. Children have few cares, no bills, and just a few simple responsibilities. So, it’s easy for adults to appreciate a story that lets their imagination run free for a little while, the way a child’s does. How I Became a Pirate is that type of story.
The musical stars Joseph Larsen as Jeremy Jacob, a young boy who is playing on the beach when a ship full of pirates comes ashore looking for a person to help them hide buried treasure. It turns out that Jeremy is the perfect lad for the job and he leaves with the pirates. On their way to the place where he says they should bury the treasure, he learns about the pirate way of life through song and dance. Basically, the story is just a modern Where the Wild Things Are, except with pirates instead of monsters.
Heading the troupe of pirates is Shawn Mortensen, who plays Captain Braid Beard. Mortensen seemed to enjoy playing the captain of the band as he strutted the stage with plenty of charisma and charm. I think Mortensen was at his best during the songs “Where Do We Bury the Treasure?” and “A Good One to Boot.” In both songs he is just eye catching enough to be fun watching, but not so much that he’s overly hammy or distracting. I also appreciated how Braid Beard was not just another clichéd Jack Sparrow impersonation.
The other pirates are fun kiddie versions of the pirate stereotype. I thought that Julia Sanchez was a charming Max—the only female pirate—and she often had enjoyable stage business with her parrot that brought a touch of humor to many scenes. A. J. Nielsen was also great in the ensemble role of Sharktooth. Nielsen seemed to know exactly how to pull the maximum possible laughs from his song “I’m Really Just a Sensitive Guy.” However, I wish that the pirate ensemble had enunciated more for the song “Batten Down the Hatches,” which was almost incomprehensible to me.
But the major strength of this show is its technical qualities. The set (designed by Nat Reed) is gorgeous and serves the story well as it morphs from shore to ship and back to shore. The lighting (designed by Elizabeth Griffiths) highlighted the set and costumes well and effectively conveyed a festive atmosphere. And I adored Deborah Bowman‘s costumes, which were zany and colorful (especially for Pierre and Max). I’m glad that the director (Jerry Elison) had strong vision for the technical elements of the production because I think that the bright colors and excellent design would make it easier to hold the attention of young audience members. This leadership especially paid off during the storm scene, which was exciting enough and executed well enough that it would feel in place in a professional production of The Tempest.
This is clearly a show for children, and it’s great that the staff at the SCERA is serving this demographic and exposing them to live theatre. On the other hand, I think that How I Became a Pirate would bore anyone older than 10. There are a few jokes shoehorned into the script for the adults, but not enough to stop some of the adults around me from checking their watches throughout the show. Also, there isn’t a lot that happens in the story, and that’s fine for very young children. But parents might feel (rightly) like they’re spending an hour on a 15-minute story. But it’s good, clean fun for children and I found myself tapping my toes to songs like “A Good One to Boot” and “Read the Map.”
If you have young children, you’ll appreciate the show. It’s imaginative and held the rapt attention of all the children in my row, which means that the artistic staff has been successful. The show’s magical . . . if you’re the age when most things are.