Review: ‘The Imbible: Rum and Pirates’ at The Producers Club Theaters

A favorite summertime installment in The Imbible’s series on the origins and development of alcoholic beverages, The Imbible: Rum and Pirates is back by popular demand for a limited four-weekends-only engagement at The Producers Club Theaters. Written and directed by Nicole DiMattei and Anthony Caporale, the entertaining, educational, and intoxicating concoction traces the spirited history of the tropical sugar-based liquor from its beginnings in 6000 BC to the high seas of the old-time Caribbean to the cocktails of our current era through the terrific troupe’s signature blend of stories and song, science and silliness, while serving up three classic drinks made from authentic recipes for the audience to – you guessed it! – imbibe.

Decked out in colorful pirate-style costumes and gear, an ebullient, informative, and melodious cast of four assumes the distinctive roles and personalities of the Captain (DiMattei) and her crew (Kate Hoover as the Quartermaster, Justin Chesney as the First Mate, and Stephen Scott Stark as the Boatswain, or Bos’n) to welcome us on board the S.S. Bumbo for training (the efficiently evocative set design by Caporale and Riley Hutchison contains antique maps, hemp nets, cloth sails, riggings, pirate flags, and treasure chests filled with amusing props by Alex Laughlin). Each actor presents fascinating facts about the why, where, when, and how of the evolution of rum, the presumed etymology of its name and other related words (the derivation of “windfall” elicited an audible “oh” from the audience at the performance I attended), the anatomy and terminology of a ship (there will be a test!), and lessons on being a successful buccaneer by honoring the pirate code and speaking in the bona fide jargon (with a hilarious scene of Stark translating a colloquial conversation between Hoover and Chesney into plain English).

Justin Chesney (front), Kate Hoover, Nicole DiMattei, and Stephen Scott Stark. Photo by Deb Miller.
Justin Chesney (front), Kate Hoover, Nicole DiMattei, and Stephen Scott Stark. Photo by Deb Miller.

The original script’s smart and engaging dialogue – loaded with witty sexual innuendo (suggestively identifying their species of man as “homo erectus”), sidesplitting groan-inducing puns (Hoover introduces herself as the “VP of Sails,” prompting DiMattei to inform us that she is in charge of discipline on the ship and will punish us “with her jokes”), and socio-economic references to the low salaries in the arts (precipitating the fictitious erstwhile Art Historian and former “Off-Off-Shore-Broadway” actor to turn to piracy so that they could “pay the bills”) – is interspersed with traditional genres of a cappella sea shanties (including such famous tunes as “Drunken Sailor” and “Blow the Man Down,” along with lesser-known ones like “Haul Away Joe” and “Leave Her Johnny”), all sung in perfect four-part harmony by the mellifluous quartet (arrangements by Josh Ehrlich and new apropos lyrics by Caporale) and animated by DiMattei’s lively choreography (humorously integrating chorus-line kicks into the mix of pirate-style dances and sword fights). The ensemble’s own comical interactions are punctuated by segments of enthusiastic audience participation with willing members seated on stage and in the front row. Throughout the show, it’s abundantly clear that the cast, with its obvious camaraderie and good-natured joking, is having as fine a time as we are – and we’re having as much fun with them as with a “tot” of rum (if you don’t know what that means, they’ll explain it, and will also note that it was in use up until 1970).

Kate Hoover and Nicole DiMattei. Photo by Deb Miller.
Kate Hoover and Nicole DiMattei. Photo by Deb Miller.

In addition to all of the levity, there are moments of serious reflection. A moving rendition in verse and song of the “Ballad of Captain Kidd” (unjustly executed for piracy in 1701), featuring Hoover in a full beard and sporting a Scottish accent, is supported by a background shadow play silhouetting DiMattei (as Hoover’s double), Chesney, and Stark re-enacting the drama of his hanging. And the shameful history of the transatlantic Triangle Trade, bartering rum for slaves, is handled with honest sensitivity and forthright poignancy, as the actors’ shift their moods accordingly.

If you want more of this intelligent, didactic, and enjoyable production, you can opt for the supplemental First-Class Guided Rum Tasting with the excellent cast immediately following the show, to learn more about the different types and grades of rum and how best to appreciate them. And don’t forget there are two other episodes of The Imbible (A Spirited History of Drinking and Day Drinking: The Brunch Musical), both playing open-ended runs at New World Stages; plus you can look forward to Christmas Carol Cocktails returning for the holidays. I’ll drink to that!

Running Time: Approximately two hours (plus an extra 30 minutes for the optional First-Class Guided Rum Tasting), including an intermission.

Justin Chesney (front), Kate Hoover, Nicole DiMattei, and Stephen Scott Stark. Photo courtesy of Broadway Theatre Studio.
Justin Chesney (front), Kate Hoover, Nicole DiMattei, and Stephen Scott Stark. Photo courtesy of Broadway Theatre Studio.

The Imbible: Rum and Pirates plays through Saturday, September 15, 2018, performing at The Producers Club Theaters, Royal Theater – 358 West 44th Street, 2nd floor, NYC. For tickets, call (866) 811-4111, or purchase them online.