Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Signature Theatre
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Awa Sal Secka, Ben Gunderson, Lawrence Redmond,
Kevin McAllister, Chris Hoch,
Rory Boyd, Bobby Smith
and Maria Egler

Photo by Christopher Mueller
Blackbeard, the musical receiving its world premiere at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, is exhilarating and fun if not profound. It's a story about making an impact on the world, about sons and fathers, and about how a company of pirates deals with characters out of myth. What's not to like?

Signature, and director Eric Schaeffer, have a longtime connection with authors John Dempsey (book and lyrics) and Dana P. Rowe (music), whose earlier works include The Fix and The Witches of Eastwick. Here they cut loose in all directions, with songs evoking swaggering chanteys, the depths of the sea, African folk melodies, even a nod to Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle.

Paul Tate DePoo III has created another one-of-a-kind scenic design in the MAX Theatre; audiences can enter through only one of the two lobby doors because a tall and minutely detailed wall blocks one of the aisles. The center of the stage floor is wooden and incorporates a turntable; ropes hang from above and characters navigate the levels of the set by ladder and stairs, surrounded by the audience in asymmetrical seating areas. Bursts of smoke from vents in the floor periodically punctuate the action, adding to the haze that filters Chris Lee's lighting design of blues and greens.

While history and legend tell of an actual pirate known as Blackbeard (or Edward Teach, as he thinks of himself here), Dempsey and Rowe take the character into a realm of ancient magic. This Blackbeard (Chris Hoch) is not well known and feels inferior to the father he never met, the famed Whitebeard, so when he learns that British troops are pursuing him, he and his crew set out to create a story that will precede him.

Blackbeard has a wife—beautiful La Mer (Maria Egler), a personification of the sea—and a former lover—imposing Dominique (Jessica Bennett, in for Nova Y. Payton), who has great power even though she is trapped in a coral reef. When he seeks her help, Dominique sends him on a quest that leads to mystical adventures in Norway, Japan, and India.

Hoch is suitably commanding, with a ringing voice, but Kevin McAllister dominates his scenes as Blackbeard's lieutenant Caesar, an African who escaped the slave traders.

While the song "To Be a Pirate" is a bit on the nose as Caesar bluntly equates the pirate's life with freedom, most of the score is strong. Matthew Gardiner's swirling choreography amplifies the fable quality of the production, with surprising and ingenious touches throughout. Similarly, Erik Teague's costumes range from the practical to the fantastic (Dominique must be carried by other cast members) and funny (the bedraggled Norse gods in the ruins of Valhalla).

Signature Theatre
June 18th - July 14th, 2019
Book & lyrics by John Dempsey
Music by Dana P. Rowe
Blackbeard: Chris Hoch
Caesar: Kevin McAllister
Roger: Rory Boyd
Sally/Dominique: Nova Y. Payton
Samuel/Old Man: Lawrence Redmond
Morgan/La Mer: Maria Egler
Karl/Odinn: Bobby Smith
Garrick/Lt. Maynard: Ben Gunderson
Jake/Kamikaze: Christopher Mueller
Shanti/Kali Maa: Awa Sal Secka
Directed by Eric Schaeffer
Choreography by Matthew Gardiner
Music direction by David Holcenberg
MAX Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave.
Arlington, VA 22206
Ticket Information: 703-820-9771 or 1-800-955-5566 or