OREM — Just two years after the last production of How I Became a Pirate at the SCERA, the company has a new production of this play for young audiences. This cute fantasy tale held the attention of my 4- and 6-year-old children for its 55-minute running time and is a good choice for a low-risk family night. But if readers decide to set a course for this play, then they should bundle up and bring a few blankets because the low temperatures might shiver ye timbers.
How I Became a Pirate, adapted (with a script and score by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman) from the children’s book of the same name (written by Melinda Long), tells the story of young Jeremy Jacob, who meets a band of pirates that take him on an adventure to bury their treasure. Along the way, he teaches them about soccer, and they teach him about life on a pirate ship.
Shawn M. Herrera directed and choreographed a production that exuded innocence and sweetness. Whether it was the choreography inspired by Irish step dancing in “Soccer by the Rules” or the exaggerated movements when the pirates follow the instructions on the map, the production is infused with playfulness and joy.
Herrera also designed the set, which was dominated by a large pirate ship that was assembled on stage during the title song. The ship filled the large stage nicely and provided a platform for the actors to cavort and play on. I wish the uppermost portion of the ship had been used more, though. The rest of the set consisted of walls and small set pieces painted to resemble the beach or ocean. The artistry of the paint job was reminiscent of the play’s storybook roots and served as a constant reminder of the Caribbean setting of the story.
The cast was pretty strong, though Teresa Jack as Max the Pirate was the biggest surprise, thanks to her soulful rendition of “Talk Like a Pirate.” The power behind her voice and the slight touch of sass did much to bring depth and character to the song. On the other hand, Samuel Wright as Swill the Pirate botched some of the lyrics in “Read the Map,” which lessened its humor as a homage to Gilbert and Sullivan.
Real-life father and son Aaron and Nathanael Mildenstein played Jeremy Jacob and Captain Braid Beard, respectively. Nathanael Mildenstein’s performance was energetic and endearing, especially when he would suddenly bust a move during a song, thrusting his fists back and forth and dancing in place. Aaron Mildenstein seemed happy just to gallivant around the stage, talking like a pirate and giving orders to the other pirates. His jokes land well, too, such as when he said that, “This isn’t a three-hour tour,” which a good chunk of the adults laughed at.
Now that I have seen and reviewed the show three times, its strengths and weaknesses are clearer than ever. One detail escaped my notice before, but now concerns me: in the opening scene, Jeremy is playing alone on the beach when the pirates invite him to come with them, and he follows without hesitation. Older kids will understand that Jeremy’s adventures with the pirates are imaginary, but young children have difficulty distinguishing between fantasy and reality. Parents should remind their children not to accompany strangers to another location.
Other concerns are more minor. Aaron Mildenstein wore a fake beard that was distracting and obscured his mouth, making it hard to see his facial expressions. Nathanael Mildenstein had trouble with his shoe laces and had to stop to tie them two or three times. And there were a few moments in the score where the cast was not singing in time for a few beats, though they always recovered quickly.
But, How I Became a Pirate is generally a sound and seaworthy play for children. During most of it, the kids in the audience were spellbound by the colorful costumes (designed by Deborah Bowman), the lively dancing, and the energy on stage. The show is a success which enlivens the imagination of young and old audience members alike.