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Blackbeard ~ Signature Theatre

Jordan Wright
June 29, 2019

Full disclosure:  I am a descendant of Edward Teach aka Edward Thatch aka Blackbeard.

Okay, now that my admission of partiality is out of the way, I can talk about why the world premiere of Blackbeard is a rousing success.  First and foremost, Lyricist John Dempsey (Brother Russia, The Witches of Eastwick, The Fix) and Composer Dana P. Rowe (Dempsey’s collaborator on the same award-winning shows) have chosen the consummate swashbuckling blackguard to lead us into a hilariously unconventional fantasyland of pirates and their amours.  Directed by Signature’s Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer, this turbo-charged adventure is based on the legendary exploits of the infamous 18th century privateer.

Awa Sal Secka (Shanti), Kevin McCallister (Caesar), Chris Hoch (Blackbeard), Christopher Mueller (Jake), and Lawrence Redmond (Samuel) in Blackbeard at Signature Theatre. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

Punctuated with dazzling pyrotechnics, the snicker-snack of gleaming swords, and booming cannons so thunderous that the floor actually quakes beneath your feet, this lusty new musical introduces us to the life of the dastardly pirate, Blackbeard.

Maria Egler (Morgan), Lawrence Redmond (Samuel), Christopher Mueller (Jake), Ben Gunderson (Garrick), Awa Sal Secka (Shanti), and Kevin McAllister (Caesar) in Blockbeord at Signature Theatre. Photo by Margot Schulman.

Conceiving a plan to conquer the British navy and achieve notoriety, Blackbeard seeks out his former lover, Dominique, a dazzlingly alluring temptress who rules the high seas.  His aim: To gain access to her sorcery and recruit an army of the undead.  Her aim:  To secure her freedom from the island where he abandoned her and conscript him to bring her three precious jewels.  To achieve this perilous feat, Blackbeard must travel to the kingdoms of Japan and India and confront the Norse gods of Scandinavia.

Nova Y. Payton (Dominique) in Blockbeord at Signature Theatre. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

Accompanied by Roger, a clever young stowaway, his trusty African Captain Caesar, Karl, a curiously reticent sailor, and a scurrilous band of ne’er-do-wells, Blackbeard travels across stormy seas on his perilous mission.

Veteran Broadway actor Chris Hoch (War Paint, Amazing Grace, Matilda, Shrek: The Musical, Beauty and the Beast, Dracula), with his marvelously commanding voice and stage presence, gives us an imposing Blackbeard, while leading lady Nova Y. Payton blows us square out of our seats with her powerhouse singing and fierce portrayal of the payback-seeking Dominique who enchants Blackbeard in the sultry number “Spellbound’.  Equally engaging is Lawrence Redmond’s finely tuned portrayal of the Old Man and Bobby Smith as Ódinn, the Viking ruler, who engages Blackbeard in an uproariously comical drinking contest in the number “Valhalla” – “Val-ha-ha-ha-la”!

As bold and colorful as these pirates is Paul Tate Depoo III’s set design.  Rigged with ship’s lines for clambering and a massive ship’s prow, the two-level set is wonderfully atmospheric.

It’s all tongue-in-cheek as this band of buccaneers takes us on a wild ride to exotic ports of call.

Ben Gunderson (Lt. Maynard) and Chris Hoch (Blackbeard) in Blockbeord at Signature Theatre. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

Highly recommended.  A rousing adventure with a memorable score.

Ten actors play over 60 roles.  With Chris Hoch as Blackbeard; Nova Y. Payton as Sally/Dominique; Rory Boyd as Roger; Lawrence Redmond as Samuel/Old Man; Kevin McAllister as Caesar; Bobby Smith as Karl/Ódinn; Maria Egler as Morgan/La Mer; Ben Gunderson as Garrick/Lt. Maynard; Christopher Mueller as Jake/Kamikase; and Awa Sal Secka as Shanti/Kali Maa.

Conducted by Jon Kalbfleisch; Choreography by Matthew Gardiner; exceptionally costumed by Erik Teague; Lighting Design by Chris Lee; Sound Design by Ryan Hickey; Orchestrations by David Holcenberg & Scott Wasserman; Fight Choreography by Casey Kaleba.

Through July 14th at Signature Theatre (Shirlington Village), 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets and information call 703 820-9771 or visit www.signature-theatre.org.

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