THEATER REVIEW

Imagination Stage's 'How I Became a Pirate" is a matey good play for kids

SHIVER ME TIMBERS! From left, Colleen Delany, Michael John Casey, Tim Getman, Phillip Reid, David Frankenberger Jr. and Josh Sticklin have maritime high jinks in the Imagination Stage production.
SHIVER ME TIMBERS! From left, Colleen Delany, Michael John Casey, Tim Getman, Phillip Reid, David Frankenberger Jr. and Josh Sticklin have maritime high jinks in the Imagination Stage production. (Scott Suchman)

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By Celia Wren
Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Imagination Stage is flying the Jolly Roger this summer, with two theatrical pirate stories setting sail. First out of the harbor is "How I Became a Pirate," a funny, sweet-tempered musical designed for the age-3-and-up set. With folk song- and sea chantey-inflected songs by Steve Goers, a book and lyrics by Alyn Cardarelli and lively direction by Paul Bosco McEneaney, the production is one part cozy adventure and three parts kooky shiver-me-timbers atmospherics.

Adapted from Melinda Long and David Shannon's picture book, "How I Became a Pirate" introduces a young boy named Jeremy to a bunch of endearingly bungling buccaneers. Captain Braid and his crew need a new recruit for treasure-burying duties, their usual stasher having developed carpal tunnel syndrome, so they enlist Jeremy after spotting him with a toy spade on a beach. Lessons in exotic pirate customs and a spell of homesickness -- oceangoing marauders don't tuck one another into bed, Jeremy learns to his dismay -- ultimately lead to a happy ending.

The maritime and land-lubbing high jinks play out on Tom Donahue's handsome schooner-deck set, with its masts and coils of rope. The space is roomy enough for Jeremy (Josh Sticklin) to teach the pirates to play soccer, and for Braid (Tim Getman) to divert his shipmates with a David Copperfield-style magic act.

Colorfully outfitted by costume designer Brandon R. McWilliams in ragged, puffy-sleeved doublets, sashes, bandannas and more, the actors appear to be having a blast. Sticklin's squirmy body language is just right for a small boy, and Getman's Braid radiates kindhearted-bandit panache. Michael John Casey cuts a roguish figure as the hook-handed seafarer Stubby; Phillip Reid lends goofy charm to McGee, the carpal tunnel victim; and David Frankenberger Jr. is droll as a snooty French pirate. Colleen Delany aces the role of Skeeter, a female brigand whose attempt to entertain her comrades by crooning "Memory" (from the musical "Cats") is squelched by Braid: "For the last time, pirates don't sing show tunes!" he snaps.

Speaking of show tunes, when Braid and his corsairs are singing in deep, growly voices, Cardarelli's lyrics can be hard to discern. This flaw notwithstanding, "How I Became a Pirate" should amuse adult audiences (who may particularly relish the script's reference to CPAs, Certified Pirate Accountants) while entertaining youngsters, who may go around saying "Ahoy, matey!" for days.

Playwright Charles Way's "Pirates! A Boy at Sea," aimed at theatergoers age 7 and up, debuts at Imagination Stage on July 2. A world premiere, it will run in repertory with "How I Became a Pirate" through mid-August.

Wren is a freelance writer.

How I Became a Pirate

book and lyrics by Alyn Cardarelli, music by Steve Goers, based on Melinda Long and David Shannon's book. Directed by Paul Bosco McEneaney; music direction, Christopher Youstra; choreography, Stephen Gregory Smith; lighting design, Jason Arnold; sound, Chris Baine. About 1 hour, plus intermission. Through Aug. 14 at Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Ave., Bethesda. Call 301-280-1660 or visit http://www.imaginationstage.org.


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