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Calthropia

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

There's a fine line between pirates and corporate businessmen. Of course, one group wears suits and the other doesn't, but there are few other differences to be found if you listen to Tom Kleh, whose Calthropia, now playing at the Bank Street Theatre, pits both groups against each other for a mildly amusing but slightly less swashbuckling musical comedy adventure.

The pirates have their sights set on a real treasure while the corporate types are more interested in takeovers, profit margins, and things of that nature, yet the main thing motivating everyone - as in so many musical comedies - is love. The leader of the pirates, Captain Quick (Michael D. Dionissiou) is pursuing a woman betrothed to another; the young Amy (Emily Shoolin) is growing fed up with her paranoid reporter boyfriend Craig (Mark Ledbetter) and his inability to commit; and Mr. Calthrop (Ed Schiff), intent on building a pirate-themed amusement park on the Jersey shore, may be having a slightly less than platonic relationship with his trusted aide, Ms. Bratwaller (Jeanne Tinker).

So, when the effects of the dreaded and mysterious New Jersey Trapezoid brings the two groups together, they collide in foreseeable romantic and dastardly ways. Calthrop's cut-throat VP (Anson Hedges) finds plenty in common with the pirates, while Captain Quick finds plenty to like in Amy. Quick and Calthrop clash, there's a threatened pistol duel, and, of course, plenty of singing and dancing.

What there is precious little of is dramatic conflict. The pirates in Calthropia may as well have been filtered through the torrid pages of the romance novels Amy spends much of her time reading; as directed by Maryann Lombardi, the pirates are seldom threatening, and significantly cartoonish in their interactions with each other and the newcomers. As they're exactly the kind of pirates one might expect to see in the type of theme park Calthrop is interested in building, they don't provide a solid romantic basis for Amy or the sense of fear in Craig and the others Kleh's book tries to bring out. There's some humor to be found in the book, but very few surprises.

The songs (with music direction and arranging by Douglas Maxwell) are all serviceable, though few are particularly memorable. Hedges sings of the fabled history of the New Jersey trapezoid, Hedges and the pirates come close to forcing a song about shady accounting besting swordplay into a showstopper, and the evening ends on a charming and witty large group number likening one's friends and lovers to New Jersey.

Shoolin's performance is delightful, and though her songs are nothing special, she puts her light, floating soprano to excellent use singing them. Dionissiou's rich baritone improves all of his numbers, though his book scenes are too cliché ridden for him to find much of a character. Tinker finds a fair amount of comedy in Ms. Bratwaller, and Lauren Volkmer brings a great deal of poise and authority to her very small role. One of the play's most under-utilized actors, Jim Phillips, in a tiny role as one of Calthrop's underlings, displays a remarkably rangy voice that should afford him more interesting and challenging music than is provided him here.

Calthropia, one tiny burst of questionably language aside, is pretty much safe for the whole family. It's harmless, with practically nothing to truly offend - or justifiably rouse - anyone. That Robin McGee's costumes provide the most color is telling - pirates should need little assistance generating excitement on their own. Here, they need all the help they can get.

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Calthropia
Through April 6
The Bank Street Theatre, 155 Bank Street between Washington and West
Schedule and Tickets: SmartTix at (212) 206-1515