The Siegel Column

2 1/2 Stars: The Pirate Queen

In this age of the modern musical, in which if a new show isn't cutting edge there are critics who will dismiss it in less than a heartbeat, let's stop a moment before tearing down a major attempt at entertainment. Yes, The Pirate Queen is deeply flawed and there will be no dearth of people who will be delighted to describe those flaws to you in detail. We'll tell you what's wrong with the show, too, but we won't take pleasure in it. We'd like to start, though, by describing why audiences will rightfully enjoy certain aspects of this show ...

The enthusiastic and muscular choreography that has made Riverdance so successful is in full bloom in The Pirate Queen. Sharply performed, blood-racing in its tightly syncopated style (oftentimes with wooden oars that also suggest a touch of Stomp), in this show you'll find the core in choreography.

The set, costume and lighting design all leave no doubt that a great deal of money has been spent on this production. Sometimes big budget shows open on Broadway and you wonder where the money went; not here. You want visual stimulation? You'll get plenty of it here.

The cast is the ultimate prize on the Hilton Theatre stage. In a better show, Stephanie J. Block's heroic performance in the title role would be star-making, if not career-making. Be that as it may, when she belts she makes a mediocre score sound like a million bucks. Hadley Fraser as Block's love interest in the show, has a soaring tenor voice that will knock you out. Jeff McCarthy as Block's father cuts quite a memorable swath through the first act. Women of a certain age were swooning all over the place. Linda Balgord as Queen Elizabeth I brings a genuine vigor and bite to her delicious soprano vocals.

Briefly, because you'll have plenty of other folks who will tell you what's wrong with the show, we'll concede that the score is derivative, the music is mediocre and the lyrics are too often banal rather than anthemic. Worse, the book, the story of real-life female Irish pirate Grace O'Malley, is badly structured, draining in it of its drama. A swashbuckling story that builds not to a climatic singing/dancing/action finale but to a private talk seen in silhouette between the Pirate Queen and the English Queen is nothing if not unsatisfying.

Yes, there is a lot wrong with The Pirate Queen, but one hopes that audiences will get the chance to make up their own minds about this troubled yet impressive work.

Pirate Queen at the Hilton Theatre, 213 West 42nd Street (Between Broadway and 8th Avenue). Tickets at Ticketmaster.

4 1/2 Stars: Curtains

What do people want? If Curtains can't satisfy your love of musical theater, then give it up. Though it arrived on Broadway after The Drowsy Chaperone it is less that wonderful show's bastard child than it is its adopted parent. Assembled out of the same stardust as Drowsy, it playfully - and sometimes darkly - kids the theatrical world in which it lives. An old-fashioned musical with all of those virtues intact, it is not pushing any envelopes, but it is providing a lot of well-earned laughs from Rupert Holmes' witty book, and a great deal of joy and yet more laughter from the deliciously witty score by John Kander the late Fred Ebb.

And, oh, the cast! David Hyde Pierce is a scream as a musical theater-loving homicide detective. He is matched by Debra Monk as a producer with a secret - and a show-stopping number! Edward Hibbert is perfectly cast as, well, Edward Hibbert. Among the rest of the attractive and talented cast includes Karen Ziemba, Noah Racey, Michael McCormick, Megan Sikora and Jason Danieley. It's Danieley who gets the honor of singing the poignant "I Miss the Music," John Kander's tribute to his late partner Fred Ebb.

Curtains at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, 302 West 45th Street (Between 8th and 9th Avenues). Tickets at Telecharge.

4 1/2 Stars: Face the Music

The perfect project for Encores!, the 1932 musical with a book by Moss Hart and a score by Irving Berlin, Face the Music was a nutty delight. If Curtains and The Drowsy Chaperone are beacons for our latter-day-love of musical theater, Face the Music is their devilishly delightful antecedent. It, too, is about musical theater but with a brash sense of humor that is less loving than it is hilariously satirical. Then again, much of its humor is based on its early Depression-era scrappiness; these are show people who will do just about anything to put on a show. In their age, chutzpah had to replace cash.

This was a case of Encores! putting on a show that we would otherwise never get a chance to see: it's their actual mission and we're glad whenever they eschew famous, commercial projects to put on this kind of historically significant piece. Not that Face the Music was some kind of museum piece - not at all! Vibrant, nutty fun, it's a charming and entertaining show. Jeffry Denman and Meredith Patterson were winning singing/dancing romantic leads, while Eddie Korbich and Mylinda Hull were standouts as musical comedy relief. Judy Kaye and Lee Wilkof were wonderfully wacky as the erstwhile producers of the show within the show (He a policeman on the make, and she his society wife). It was sweet, indeed, to see Walter Bobbie back on stage as a Broadway producer with his office literally on a city street.

If this wasn't one of Irving Berlin's greatest scores, so what? It was tuneful, rich in period detail, and oh so danceable - the show's best moments were the dance numbers performed by Denman, Patterson, Korbich, and Hull and wonderfully choreographed by Randy Skinner. The whole enterprise was lovingly directed by John Rando.

-- Barbara and Scott Siegel

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