A few days ago, you might have heard more than your fair share of “scallywags” and “lily-livered land lubbers” if an acquaintance or loved one elected to celebrate International Talk Like a Pirate Day. If any of those pirate-talking buccaneers are kids, they are sure to enjoy the musical How I Became a Pirate with book, music, and lyrics by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman at Adventure Theatre MTC. Directed and choreographed by Jenny Male, this snappy production zips along with energy and fizz as it follows the adventures of young Jeremy Jacob (Kelsey Painter) as he dreams of a life on the high seas, far away from his parents and his baby sister. Painter does an excellent job portraying Jeremy’s youth and enthusiasm, with a perfect singing voice to match – no small feat for a grown woman.
Audiences might be familiar with the source material: the award-winning picture book How I Became a Pirate by Melinda Long and illustrated by David Shannon. The musical amps up the fun of Captain Braid Beard (a non-threatening but playfully gruff Peter Boyer) searching for a digger to help him and his crew bury his treasure. When he notes the skill with which Jeremy has created a sandcastle, as well as his fine shovel, he whisks young Jeremy aboard his boat. “A Good One to Boot” kicks off the show as the cast of pirates sings and dances with infectious energy. It’s not a large ensemble, but each pirate fulfills his or her role on the ship with skill and humor.
To become a pirate, of course Jeremy must learn pirate ways, like how to “Talk Like a Pirate,” as well as the ins and outs (mostly outs) of pirate dental hygiene and their proudly “Green Teeth.” Jeremy has a chance to teach the pirates a little something about his life as well when he introduces them to his favorite sport in “Soccer by the Rules.” Most of the musical numbers are performed by the company, with a couple of exceptions, notably Pirate Sharktooth’s (Danny Bertaux) ballad about how he’s really a “Sensitive Guy,” a hilarious nod to the hidden poet’s soul of a pirate.
The playful set designed by Samina Vieth takes you from Jeremy’s day with his family on North Beach to Braid Beard’s vessel. His pirate ship looks like a dream playground for any kid, with decks, ropes, a crow’s nest, and even a slide. The lighting by Kris A. Thompson and sound by Neil McFadden take us from beach to sea, from day to a stormy night with realism, but not so much as to scare the very littlest audience members.
While the kids are enjoying the requisite jokes about the poop deck and pirates’ booty, the adults have much to enjoy, including “Read the Map,” Pirate Swill’s (Gregory Atkin) stand-out tip of the tricorne to HMS Pinafore, as well as some more sophisticated word play, making this piratical musical mischief fun for all aboard, be they pirate-obsessed kids, or adults who are merely pirate-tolerant. The kindergartner I saw the play with declared his favorite part the discussion of the poop deck, of course, but he also said How I Became a Pirate is “cool,” “great,” and “funny,” as well as “better than the book.” Better than the book? That’s almost never the case, but here, I have to agree.
Running Time: 60 minutes, with no intermission.
How I Became a Pirate plays through October 22, 2017, at Adventure Theatre MTC in Glen Echo Park – 7300 MacArthur Boulevard, in Glen Echo, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 634-2270, or purchase them online.