Treasure Island: The Musical

I am an infrequent blogger because, I think, deep down, I’m apathetic about most current events. I’m getting older, and crotchety. I don’t have cable so all my television is through Netflix. And the cultural things I get excited/incensed about are mostly on the Internet, which is sad, really.

Since I so rarely have opinion about stuff – actually that’s not true. Let me rephrase. Since I so rarely have opinions about things strong enough to merit me taking an hour or two out of my day to write about them (I am not an essayist), when I do have thoughts I want to share, I’m going to do that. I’ll try to stay away from being negative. Can’t make any promises.

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I recently attended the world premiere of Treasure Island – The Musical here at The Arkansas Reperatory Theater. I was very excited because it’s rare we get good productions in Arkansas, seeing as we’re on the edge of the world here. Digression: one of the major problems with Arkansas is that a majority of its truly talented denizens tend to leave for greener pastures, commonly referred to as BRAIN DRAIN. We’re too provincial for a burgeoning arts scene and the majority of the population doesn’t care about or support the arts yet we’re affluent enough for much of the artistic minded to have enough income to pursue some form of artistic endeavor creating a disparity between opportunity and ability to support oneself pursuing the arts. We’re a state of hobbyists. If I had a dime for every time people looked at me blankly when I say I’m a novelist, I’d be able to support myself as a writer in style. Close digression tag.

So, my whole family was very excited for the chance to see a brand new musical, a world premiere no less. My daughters and wife dudded up in pretty dresses and I tamped down my hair and we took our seats after a nice dinner. Lights go down. Actors tromp on stage.

THE GOOD:

There was far more good than bad in this production. We all know the story, right? Treasure Island. A fatherless boy gets swept away from home in a plot to find stolen gold and runs afoul of pirates? Long John Silver, the cook with a history of larceny on the high seas and a cadre at his back with a half-submerged desire for a son (and possibly redemption) stages a mutiny in order to claim the treasure for himself. I won’t recap the whole plot for you but you can get a good idea of it here at Wikipedia, or a fine recap and review of this production by Lauren James on the InArkansas Blog. And of course, you can read the text of Treasure Island for free at Project Gutenberg.

It’s a bildungsroman of the best sort and Logan Rowland (Jim Hawkins) acts with the assurance of someone far beyond his years. And while Treasure Island is a coming-of-age story, Jim Hawkins’ story arc is only interesting insofar as being an innocent foil to the adult characters that – at least in the musical production – take pre-eminence. Indeed, every pirate has his moment to shine and young Jim spends much of his stage time hiding, listening, or being fawned over by a phantom mother existing only in his mind – a contrivance, I imagine, to insure that the majority of Treasure Island isn’t a sausage fest, which, essentially, it is. Yet. This production does bring Jim’s character arc to fruition and Rowland does a fine job with the character, culminating with the moment he’s forced to kill. It has real emotional impact and goes a long way toward ameliorating the production’s other flaws. Kudos to the writers.

Richard B. Watson chewed up the scenery as Long John Silver while eschewing the dreaded “Arrgh,” (see what I did there?) originated by Robert Newton, patron saint of pirate-talk around the globe. Every time Watson opened his mouth to speak, I was riveted. And despite some of the productions failings (which I will get to in a moment) there was a real pathos when Silver reached out to Jim at the end, showing a depth of feeling, a conflicted character, and an understanding of the source material and, simply, some tremendous acting chops.

Another standout was Squire Trewlaney, played by Michael Thomas Holmes. His ebullient portrayal of the Squire was a crowd favorite, garnering laughs. I couldn’t help but think if there ever was a person fit to play John Adams in 1776, the musical, Michael Thomas Holmes is that man.

And then there was Ben Gunn, played by actor Patrick Richwood who, after a bit of Googling, seems to be a highly accomplished stage, television, and movie actor. His portrayal of the lunatic Ben Gunn was manical, hilarious, fascinating and the highlight of the evening, receiving a thunderous amount of applause when all the players took the stage at the end. And deservedly so.

To wrap up The Good section, Treasure Island – The Musical is a wonderful way to spend an evening and, Arkansans, if you don’t head out and support this wonderful production, you’re a dickhole. Hie thee hence and purchase a ticket. Available March 6th to March 31st.

 

 

 

 

THE BAD:

I’m not going to slag Treasure Island – The Musical too much because the ensemble was fantastic and I want it to do well. You will notice, however, I didn’t refer to the music at all in my section referring to the good. Probably because the music was the least memorable part of TI-TM.

Okay, bear with me for a moment while I make a few postulations:

If you walk out of a theater after seeing a musical and can’t hum the chorus from one of the songs, sing a snippet of a ditty, that musical wasn’t a successful experience.

A few days after seeing Treasure Island: The Musical, I was watching It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, namely the episode in which the gang – Charlie, Dennis, Mac and Frank – decide to form a band. Of course, in the constant shifting machinations of those horrible (wonderful) people, they kick out Charlie (and Dennis) who then join forces. Witness:

And for the next week or so I had that retarded melody running round in my head. And earworm indeed. Certain ideas began to click in my head almost as though I was huffing paint.

Shortly after, I told my wife what I was thinking.

“Dominant melodies. The Lion King,” I said. She looked at me and then sang the chorus of “Hakuna Matata.” And then she paused and sang the line, “I just can’t wait to be king!”

“Guys and Dolls,” I said. She looked at me blankly so then I sang, “I got the horse right here, his name is Paul Revere,” and then went into a long rendition of “Luck Be a Lady.”

“Oklahoma,” she said and I responded by singing about how corn grows as high as elephant’s eyes.

“My Fair Lady,” I said. Again she looked at me blankly but I sang “Get Me to The Church On Time,” and “I Could Have Danced All Night.” Turns out I have a far greater knowledge of musicals than my wife does. Go figure.

After that we went through more Disney musical numbers, including “Part of Your World,” and “Be Our Guest” and “Under the Sea.” Then we sang “Food Glorious Food” and “Thank You Very Much.”

The point is, musical theater music is popular music. Musical theater is emotion writ large. It’s simple and blatant, not subtle. A character takes the stage and announces to the world, in song, what his or her motivations are. If your character wants a father, or misses a father, or wants adventure – then you have that character – Jim Hawkins – sing a song about how he wants adventure – verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, verse, chorus with some talky parts. If your character wants revenge, or love, or anything, then that character sings a catchy song about his or her motivations.

If you’re going to put on a musical, the songs need hooks. HOOKS. Earworms. Dominant major melodies that get in our brainmeats and pulse uncomfortably. Pleasurably.

Unfortunately, Treasure Island – The Musical didn’t provide that. The closest it came was when Squire Trewlaney sang about becoming rich. It was the most charming musical number. Motivations were clear.

Don’t get me wrong, the music was professional, and well composed. But it wasn’t engaging and that, I fear, will be the thing that keeps Treasure Island – The Musical from becoming a hit, a production that really takes off.

But still, it was a very fun night and you’ll still be a dickhole if you live in Little Rock and don’t go see it.

That is all.

 

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