Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

Treasure Island
Arden Theatre Company
Review by Rebecca Rendell | Season Schedule

The Cast
Photo by Ashley Smith, Wide Eyed Studios
Arden Children's Theatre's whimsical production of Treasure Island is a swashbuckling adventure sure to delight every soul brave enough to get on board. Director Doug Hara strikes the perfect balance between gritty danger and unabashed silliness. The cast of musically talented swarthy sea men (including some stellar Philly actresses) is terrific. Musical numbers are lots of fun, if not particularly original or memorable. Every element of stage craft—from the whiffle-bat-and-frisbee ship's wheel to the shining gold safety pins on Captain Long John Silver's jacket—is spot on. The Arden's Arcadia stage may seem small at the start, but it feels as wide as the sea and limitless as a child's imagination before the story is done.

In Robert Louis Stevenson's 1883 novel, young Jim Hawkins finds a mysterious treasure map and sets sail in search of gold, only to discover his ship is crewed by a gang of murderous pirates intent on stealing the riches for themselves. In the musical adaptation by British playwright Toby Hulse, Jim's story is told through the eyes of young Emily (Eliana Fabiyi), who escapes the drudgery of violin practice by imagining for herself a thrilling and dangerous journey on the high seas.

Fabiyi exudes an endearing and youthful exuberance that sets the tone for the entire spirited production. The always exceptional Mary Tuomanen takes a dastardly turn as the infamous pirate Captain Long John Silver. Tuomanen and the rest of the cast play multiple roles, but the sudden shifts and quick changes are all part of the fun. Tai Verley brings a ludicrous charm to the sailors and pirates she portrays. Robi Hager and Jamison Foreman deliver on farcical comedy and physical humor. Cameron DelGrosso cuts a dashing figure as the virtuous Captain Smollett. The frayed but stylish union jack tailcoat DelGrosso wears as Smollett is just one of the wonderful pieces costume designer Jillian Keys has imagined for the production.

There are a few lively fight scenes, and the body count is high for a story aimed at young people, but placing the story explicitly in Emily's imagination allows Hara to effectively soften the tale's roughest edges. Brooms are used in place of weapons, and murdered characters spring back to life to remind a flustered Emily that this is all in her mind. There is even some unexpectedly thoughtful reflection on the dichotomy between romanticized notions of violence and the grim reality of danger and death. Unfortunately, this unique insight is sloppily tossed aside for one last moment of "I want to be a pirate!" enthusiasm at the play's end.

The recommended age is 8 and up, but I think any kid old enough to sit through the one hour and forty minutes (including one intermission) will be thrilled to set sail with Emily and her crew. Even the grown ups are going to enjoy this wild ride.

Treasure Island, through June 7, 2019, at Arden Theatre Company, Arcadia Stage, 40 N. 2nd Street, Old City Philadelphia PA. For tickets call 215-922-1122 or visit

Eliana Fabiyi: Emily
Robi Hager: Morgan Blood
Tai Verley: Jack Abraham
Cameron DelGrosso: Captain Smollett
Jamison Foreman: One-Eyed Bart
Mary Tuomanen: Mary Ann Evans (Capt. Long John Silver)

Tim Mackabee: Set Design
Jillian Keys: Costume Design
Amanda Jensen: Lighting Design
Alex Bechtel: Sound Designer/Composer
Kate Nelson: Stage Manager
Shamus Hunter McCarty: Assistant Director