Fort Worth — “A pirate ship!” shouts little Jeremy Jacob (Stephen Newton), looking up from the sand castle he’s building. “That’s nice,” says his father. Dad is busy putting sun block on Jeremy’s baby sister, and he sounds plenty distracted—in fact, Jeremy’s parents are only voices in the air, not actors onstage.
So, for a boy on a beach on a lazy afternoon, what could be better than a crew of pirates who want to haul him away for adventure? Led by big-voiced but not-so-scary Captain Braid Beard (Greg Dulcie), they’re looking for another pair of hands to help them bury a treasure chest. Jeremy with his plastic sand shovel looks like a digger to them—and “A Good One to Boot.”
Casa Mañana Children’s Theatre’s musical production of Melinda Long and David Shannon’s picture book How I Became a Pirate has a full deck of lively songs, great ensemble singing and terrific choreography from Noah Putterman. This is another children’s musical from the team of Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman, and comes with Casa’s usual team of crack designers, who keep the quality high and never make us feel this is “only” a kid’s show. The plot might make your teenagers roll their eyes, but an audience of little ones—armed to the teeth with plastic Cap’n Hook hands and pirate swords—seemed to be having fun, especially in the few moments when the cast sang or spoke to them directly (something the musical’s originators might want to think about adding more of).
Noah Putterman directs a cast with some familiar faces: Dulcie (Braid Beard) has been seen onstage at the Dallas Theater Center, Stage West, and the Dallas Summer Musicals, and played a comic dragon in last year’s Rapunzel! Rapunzel! at Casa. Jonathan Bragg, whose gorgeous voice was a bit lost in the role of Sir Lionel in Casa’s recent Camelot, here gets a star turn as the pirate Sharktooth. “I’m Really Just a Sensitive Guy,” he tells Jeremy, and proves it with some delicately danced ballet moves that got a belly laugh from the kids in the seats.
All the pirate actors have their funny bits: among them is a lady buccaneer (Julie Rhodes) named Pierre, who wears a chef’s hat and serves quiche in the galley; and Pirate Scurvy Dog (Scott Zenreich), who scratches behind his ear and answers “woof” when the captain calls the roll.
Best of show, however, is young actor Newton as the unflappable Jeremy Jacob. He looks ridiculously tiny staring up into the Captain’s face, but this kid can sing and dance, and has a natural acting style without a trace of the annoying “TV sitcom kid” syndrome. Pirate is a classic “there and back again” story about a child’s wish for freedom and power: pirates, after all, never have to say “please”, brush their teeth, or go to bed before they want to. But kids still long for the comfort of bedtime stories and “tucking in," and Newton’s Jeremy does a great job of showing us the yin and yang of childhood—the feisty little pirate, and the boy who wants to go home.
The script pads the source material with add-ons for adults—the mention of “a three-hour tour,” an Elvis hip wiggle, a line from a Rodgers & Hart song—but the comedy is mostly aimed at the kids: the fact that Braid Beard sleeps in a cabin “under the poop deck” gets a major giggle. The songs are something both big and little'uns should enjoy, though, and music director Sarah Gay does a great, lighthearted job with all of them, ranging from Caribbean-tinged numbers (“A Good One to Boot”) to sea shanties (“Batten Down the Hatches”) to patter songs with impressive vocabularies á la Gilbert & Sullivan (“Read the Map”).
Bottom line: adults should like the musical numbers, and younger kids will enjoy it all, especially if you score a ticket up close to the stage (and buy them a sword!).