Monday, April 2, 2007

A Day Beyond Belclare

Show: The Pirate Queen
Venue: Hilton Theatre
Date: March 28, 2007

I had been excited about this show since I saw the big billboard up in Times Square back in November. Something about the title and the woman looking over her shoulder was extremely enticing. Oh, and it didn't hurt that the musical was written by Boubil and Schoenberg... what did they do? Oh, right. WRITE LES MIS AND MISS SAIGON. Seriously, that shouldn't even be allowed. I was even MORE excited (if possible) when I discovered that NYU was selling orchestra seats via Ticket Central. So, my friend and I scored orchestra seats. Wow! To be on the same level as the performers! Watching a preview of this entirely new show, too, was exciting.

The set and the costumes of the show are amazing. There were SO many different sets, I was completely astounded. How did they have time to do them all? The costumes were beautiful. They definitely didn't cut corners there.

I loved the Irishness of this musical. The overture was beautiful and definitely had a forlorn Irish sound to it that brought to mind beautiful, green Ireland. (Not that I've ever been to Ireland... but you know what I mean.) The Irish jigging was so awesome! This was the most dance intensive musical I've ever seen and oh wow! The choreography was amazing and practically flawless. They seemed so in sync I was just amazed. How did they do that? I did catch in one scene though, an ensemble member who appeared to have lost step and was looking around her to try to catch back on. That was slightly amusing for me. But yeah, other than that, wow wow wow. The Irish jigging. The Irish jigging! I'm definitely a fan of the Irish jigging. If anything, I'd see it again just for the Irish jigging.

There was one scene I took offense too. It appears that slow motion is in. A lot of newer productions I've seen have incorporated a "slow motion" scene. Why? Les Mis has several. I admit, I laughed the first time I saw them. The case is true again here. But even that I could handle... except for one scene that my friend and I agreed must be changed: the weird pirate/soldier fight where the pirates and soldiers do pirouettes across the stage. (This is where you give me a blank stare.) I'm sorry, NO. NO SELF RESPECTING PIRATES SHOULD BE LEAPING ACROSS THE STAGE INTO THE ARMS OF A GRACEFUL DEATH. THAT IS JUST AN INSULT TO PIRATES.

So the musical itself. Well, Stephanie J. Block was simply amazing. Good god can that woman sing. And she was absolutely perfect for this role. I had heard some audio of her as Elphaba (uh... LEGALLY of course...) and I knew she had a powerful voice coming in. But oh wow! Nothing could have prepared me for her amazing performance as Grace. She really did carry the show. She really dominated the first half with fiery passion, youth, and desire. The relationship with her father, played wonderfully by Jeff McCarthy, was so moving and genuine. Very well-developed... maybe even OVERdeveloped as I felt Act I started to lag a bit. Stephanie's voice absolutely soared in the first few songs of Act I. My only complaint would be that Grace has no real "power solos", so to speak. I mean, yeah it's more of an ensemble piece, but come on... this musical is about the Pirate Queen... why does she only have one solo? She needs at least one more! And a showstopping tune at that. Something like "Defying Gravity" from Wicked, or "Bring Him Home" or "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" from Les Mis. Grace has a solo early on, but that's more of an intro to her character because at that point, you don't really know her yet, and are just discovering what kind of person she is. Toward the end, she definitely needs a soloish song. I guess she does share a beautiful song ("She Who Has All") at the end that is both poignant and moving, but I would have liked to have seen more from Grace at the end. In general though, I don't think this show had any really amazing tunes that you leave constantly thinking about.

The closest it does come to achieving that (or perhaps achieving it completely) is Tiernan's solo, "I'll Be There." Two words: Holy. Shit. Hadley Fraser is a god. He was absolutely astounding as Grace's childhood love, Tiernan. He was powerful, passionate, and loyal... you know, basically the perfect man. He swears to stand by Grace even as she leaves him behind. :( Poor Tiernan. If anything, he's a little too good to be true. He basically waits around for Grace several years, watches her have another man's son, and still loves her completely and wholly. Um... can I please find someone like that? Preferably with Hadley Fraser's voice too. His song, "I'll Be There" is definitely reminiscent of something like "On My Own"... but you know... manly. As I listened to the song, my jaw almost dropped. As I constantly asked myself that night, How does he do that? Really, he was amazing as Tiernan. I'd go see it again just to hear him sing "I'll Be There" one more time. At first, I felt the song was a little cliche (and prayed that it wouldn't be titled "I'll Be There"... which it was) but I was quickly won over by the intensity of the song and Hadley's acting.

I'm not sure how I feel about how Stephanie's and Hadley's voices mixed. I'm pretty big on how harmonious voices sound together, especially for leads. Like in Wicked. Part of what made it work so well was that Kristin Chenoweth's and Idina Menzel's voices blended together beautifully. When I went, the Elphaba and the Glinda had vibratos that didn't exactly jive together and that had a rather nasty effect. Both Stephanie and Hadley have beautiful voices, but their vibratos didn't work well together for me when the songs were belty. When Steph went to head voice, it was much better, but I think they need to work on balancing the mics... you can't hear Steph at all. Hadley's voice just dominates.

It amused me to see them singing while their faces were so close to each other. Does it get weird? I mean they were both singing intensely and passionately (i.e., loudly)... was it annoying? Does it hurt? Is it painful?

I've also come to the conclusion that geniuses that Boubil and Schoenberg are (and I really do mean that), they cannot write a really good love duet. They came the closest in The Pirate Queen, I think. But come on. A Heart Full of Love? Sun and Moon? Not a fan. But, perhaps, it is personal preference. Really, I do love them. I love the scores. They're elegant, huge, and wash over you like a huge tidal wave... but not so much the love duets.

Marcus Chait was brilliant as Donal. Brilliant in the sense that everyone hated him. Like, I really hated him. He sang the part wonderfully and acted even better. He was entirely too convincing as the wussy, patronizing husband of Grace. It didn't help that he had this blonde wig that from far away made him look like Legolas. Marcus was great in "Boys'll Be Boys" which sounds remarkably like "Master of the House." Both good songs. "Boys'll Be Boys" is much more energetic and playful, which in context makes sense. In that vein, I thought a lot of Grace's father's songs sounded mildly reminiscent of Jean Valjean's songs in Les Mis. Rumor is it that Colm Wilkinson was in talks for that part... Too bad it never materialized. Colm would have been terrific! But Jeff McCarthy was great too. Very... fatherly.

But anyway, poor Marcus got a lackluster round of applause at his curtain call, mostly from audience members unsure of whether or not to applaud this man they loathed so much during the musical. Someone near the front booed, and booed loudly. Everyone laughed as Marcus turned in that direction. He seemed amused. The applause thickened a bit after that. I wonder what it's like to play a part where everyone hates you. Can't be fun.

Evleen, played by Aine Ui Cheallaigh, has some beautiful songs. Aine has a gorgeous voice! And her songs add to the authenticity and the "Irish feel". Her songs were some of my favorite. Very old school.

Like I said, I felt the beginning of Act I lagged a bit. I was kinda like mreh. Necessary character/plot development, however. It picked up pretty quickly, and the last two thirds of Act I were wonderful. The final scene in Act I is perhaps the best scene, accompanied by "Sail to the Stars," which is a huge ensemble piece that really just blows you away. The staging and lighting for that scene are mind-blowing as well. Act II was okay. Better than the beginning of Act I, but not quite as good as the latter part of Act I.

Linda Balgord was good as Queen Elizabeth I. I kinda wish Queen Elizabeth was developed a little more. Perhaps part of it was lost on me as it was hard to understand the lyrics she sung at times. But I think it would have made the story more powerful if we were more sympathetic to Queen Elizabeth. Both Grace and Elizabeth are AMAZING women by today's standards... but they did it at a time when men dominated the Western world. "She Who Has All" was nonetheless a moving song, but I was kinda 'eh' about Linda's and Stephanie's voices singing together. I think it may have more to do with mic balance though.

William Youmans was likeably despicable in the role of the chauvinistic role of Lord Bingham, Elizabeth's advisor. It was weird for me, knowing that he played Doctor Dillamund in Wicked. I mean, how much more different of a role can you have?

My friend really liked all the "racy" scenes. (Friend is male.) There were quite a few. There was also a bit of sexual innuendo. "Boys'll Be Boys" most certainly suggest a lot of that. But as my friend said, "They allow that on Broadway?!" Oh! And they also said "bitch" and I gasped! Haha. Well, there were little girls in front of me and Stephanie promoted it as a family experience. And they said "bitch"!!

Overall, the story is decent. The musical is good. I think with some reworking, it could be even better. It's not the best musical ever, but it's not as bad as some people say it is. At least, I enjoyed it. I'd definitely go see it again, if just to hear Stephanie, Hadley, and Marcus sing. All in all, a very enjoyable experience. (The Irish jigging!!!) I also don't think I can make an accurate judgement on a musical of this scope and size without seeing it twice. So I may just have to do that.


Jane said...

OMG. I am SO totally jealous of you. For so many reasons. One, you live in NYC and get to see all the Broadway shows if you want - even the not-so-great ones. Two, you saw The Pirate Queen. Three, you saw TPQ with Stephanie J. Block. I love her. I was so disappointed when I did not get to see her a second time with the Wicked tour because she moved on to TPQ. Third, you saw TPQ with Hadley Fraser!! And you stated what I felt when I heard the soundtrack on CD SO much better than I did. OMG. I love that man. And the accent is adorable!
Thanks for the blog. I will totally be living vicariously through you!

Jane said...

That would be: Four, you saw TPQ with Hadley Fraser etc.
Gah, I hate when I do that.

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