Drawing on the success of their international Irish dance revue, producers Moya Doherty and John McColgan take what was successful about their Riverdance — the precision foot-stomping, knee-bending and leg-swinging of Irish dance — and inject it into a plot-driven musical about a Shakespeare-era lady chieftain named Grace O'Malley.
Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg's windswept romantic epic at the Hilton Theatre is directed by Tony winner Frank Galati (The Grapes of Wrath), with musical staging by his Ragtime collaborator Graciela Daniele, who was brought onto the project after the fall 2006 Chicago world premiere.
The songwriter-storytellers Boublil and Schönberg (Les Miz) partner with their Miss Saigon collaborator Richard Maltby Jr., who co-wrote the Pirate Queen book with Boublil and Schönberg, and co-wrote lyrics with Boublil and John Dempsey (Witches of Eastwick). Music is by Schönberg.
Carol Leavy Joyce created the show's Irish choreography. Mark Dendy is credited with additional choreography.
Commissioned and produced by Doherty and McColgan, The Pirate Queen, according to the creators, "combines classic storytelling with a sweeping score and joyous dancing to celebrate the real-life story of legendary Irish chieftain Grace O'Malley: a compelling, inspiring heroine who led an extraordinary life as a pirate, chieftain, lover and mother in 16th-century Ireland. To protect her people and save her one true love, O'Malley must confront the one woman more powerful than her — her fierce rival, Queen Elizabeth I of England." Stephanie J. Block (The Boy From Oz, Wicked) plays the title character, and British actor Hadley Fraser is her love interest, Tiernan. Jeff McCarthy (Urinetown) is Grace's father, the revered chieftain Dubhdara.
Fraser, making his Broadway debut, characterized the show this way in a Playbill.com interview: "I suppose succinctly I would say The Pirate Queen is a love story set against the backdrop of historical duel between two women of extraordinary power when women weren't used to having that power. There's two main plots there, if you will: the love story between myself and Grace, and that struggle between Grace and Elizabeth. So they're two fascinating stories and they interweave very, very closely and very, very fascinatingly."
Block told Playbill.com, "The big challenge that I'm finding — which is also the glory to her — is that she is this gorgeous feminine woman, but yet a warrior at the same time. So it's kind of a journey, and you get to show all aspects and all colors of being a woman. A lot of times, as an actress, you just show one little snippet of the complexities of being a woman. And this journey takes you everywhere: to her joy, to divorcing, to giving birth, to getting married but having a lover, and it's quite complex, but it's a journey that I think the audience will really want to take."
What's new to the show since last fall?
Block revealed, "Within the first five minutes of the play, I get to sing the 'I want/this is my heart's desire/this is my dream' song. It's called 'Woman,' and that was just recently written. We didn't have that in Chicago for the out-of-town tryout. It was just written, and I think it truly encompasses who she is. And then, in the second act, on the flip side of that at the top of Act Two, she sings the same song — but now it's a lullaby, and she actually sings what the joy is of being a woman and this new sensation of giving birth and breast-feeding and finding that love that only a woman can feel."
Such words as "epic," "sweeping" and "pageant" have been applied to the musical. What's the challenge for the director?
Galati told Playbill.com, "It's a matter of taking an epic that spans a number of years — hugely crucial episodes in the lives of quite a number of people — and creating a kind of panorama that doesn't look like a panorama; that doesn't look like a kind of static series of museum cases where, with a click, in one frozen moment we see the burial of the chieftain, and in one frozen moment we see the battle between the English ship and Irish ship. So to make it dynamic, to make it move with the music and to achieve transitions that will produce a visual flow on stage, that's a big challenge."
The cast of 42 includes Linda Balgord (Queen Elizabeth I), Marcus Chait (Donal), William Youmans (Bingham), Nick Adams, Richard Todd Adams, Caitlin Allen, Sean Beglan, Timothy W. Bish, Jerad Bortz, Troy Edward Bowles, Grady McLeod Bowman, Rachel Bress, Don Brewer, Kimilee Bryant, Alexis Ann Carra, Noelle Curran, Bobbie Ann Dunn, Brooke Elliott, Christopher Garbrecht, Eric Hatch, Cristin J. Hubbard, David Koch, Timothy Kochka, Jamie LaVerdiere, Joseph Mahowald, Tokiko Masuda, Padraic Moyles, Brian O'Brien, Kyle James O'Connor, Michael James Scott, Greg Stone, Katie E. Tomlinson, Daniel Torres, Aine Ui Cheallaigh, Kathy Voytko (the standby for Grace), Jennifer Waiser, Briana Yacavone.
The two boys who share the role of "Eoin" are Justin Fernandez and Christopher Grey Misa.
The creative team features Julian Kelly (orchestrator, vocal arranger and musical supervisor and director); three-time Tony Award-winner Eugene Lee (scenic designer), two-time Tony winner Martin Pakledinaz (costume designer), Kenneth Posner (lighting designer), Jonathan Deans (sound designer), J. Steven White (fight director), Paul Rubin (aerial design), Paul Huntley (wig design), Angelina Avallone (make-up design), Howard Werner (projection design), Greg Meeh (special effects), Tara Young (associate director), Tara Rubin Casting (casting), Rachel Bress (associate choreographer), Peter Lamb (production manager).
Frank Scardino, Theatre Production Group LLC, is the General Manager. Edgar Dobie is the executive producer.
Tickets are available at www.ticketmaster.com or by phone at (212) 307-4100 or at the Hilton Theatre box office (213 W. 42nd Street).
The Pirate Queen will play Tuesday-Saturday at 8 PM with matinees on Wednesday and Saturday at 2 PM and Sunday at 3 PM.
For more information, visit www.ThePirateQueen.com.