Cole Porter's The Pirate
Musicals based on movies seem to be all the rage in the theater these days. Why, just this week, two such shows got Tony nominations for Best Musical. Why not take a well-remembered movie musical of the 1940s and adapt it for the stage?
Well, when the results are as clunky as the new stage version of Cole Porter's The Pirate, the answer is simple: sometimes, it's just not worth it. What may have seemed charming in the movies seems labored in this unnecessary, pedestrian production at the Prince Music Theater.
Based on the 1948 MGM movie starring Gene Kelly and Judy Garland (which was, in turn, based on a 1942 play starring Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne), The Pirate tells the story (set in olden days) of Manuela, a lass who is being forced into an arranged marriage with the slimy (but rich) mayor of her Caribbean village. She has no interest in him, partly because she is besotted with the stories she has read of Macoco, a glamorous but ruthless pirate. Soon her town is visited by Serafin, a traveling actor and dancer, and he tries to woo her, but fails ... until he convinces her that he is really Macoco in disguise. And then the "madcap" complications begin.
It's a story that may seem predictable and familiar, even if you've never gotten around to seeing the movie. But that's okay - musicals don't always have to be believable. They just shouldn't be boring. The book of The Pirate has long stretches where nothing interesting happens, and the dialogue is devoid of wit. (The two most memorable lines are stolen - one from Billy Wilder, one from John Lennon.) There's even a subplot involving voodoo that pads out the show for a while, then is completely forgotten about. And there's an unnecessary narrator called The Mango Woman who pops in once a while to tell us ... nothing.
Fortunately, The Pirate boasts a score by one of the musical theater's greatest composers. Well, kind of a score. The movie contained only five songs, so the adaptors have added songs from other Cole Porter shows to the mix. Most feel awkwardly pasted in - and some are totally inappropriate. For instance, in Porter's Silk Stockings, "All of You" is a yearning, romantic declaration from the leading man to his true love; in The Pirate, it's sung by the villain, Don Pedro, to the innocent girl he hopes to take advantage of. As Don Pedro puts a sinister spin on lines such as "I'd love to take a tour of you," it's easy to feel creeped out - not by Don Pedro, but by the adaptors of The Pirate for twisting the meaning of one of the great classics of the American Songbook.
As the supposedly vulnerable heroine, Andréa Burns plods through the show wearing a series of unflattering gowns and uncomfortable expressions. Leading man Seán Martin Hingston looks great, sings well and dances superbly, yet manages to give a totally boring performance. His Serafin lacks the easy charm that a star actor should have, and he has no chemistry with Burns (or anyone else).
Still, there are charms to be found in the supporting performances. Beloved Broadway veteran Pamela Myers finally brings the show to life late in act one with a tart rendition of "Most Gentlemen Don't Like Love." As the secondary couple, James T. Lane and Aileen Goldberg give a lot of spark to "I've a Strange New Rhythm in My Heart," briefly showing just how good a romantic duet can be when the boy and girl seem to actually enjoy each other's company. And Albert Innaurato (yes, the famed playwright) looks like he's having fun in his clichéd role as a prissy government official. Yet most of the cast of The Pirate seems to be going through the motions, and Richard M. Parison, Jr.'s direction can't seem to liven things up. (However, Chase Brock does contribute some energetic choreography.)
Most of The Pirate seems like a tired retread of a show that didn't need to be turned into a stage musical. Yet there is one thing about the show that is heartening - something that doesn’t recycle the past but gives some hope for the future of the musical theater. To pad out the show a bit, the producers have added three new songs by the team of Brad Ross, David Levy and Zack Manna. These songs are actually pretty good - they're slight but enjoyable, they move the plot along, and they fit into the show better than Porter's "You Do Something To Me" does.
Levy and Manna wrote The Pirate's book, too, but their lyrics are much cleverer than their dialogue. Let's hope this promising team writes a full score soon - but that they let someone else handle the book.
Cole Porter's The Pirate runs through Sunday, May 28. Ticket prices range from $40 to $50 and may be purchased by calling the Prince Music Theater box office at 215-569-9700, in person at 1412 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia, or online at http://www.princemusictheater.org/.
Cole Porter's The Pirate