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BWW Review: BLACKBEARD at Signature Theatre

BWW Review: BLACKBEARD at Signature Theatre
Chris Hoch at front with the Pirate Ensemble of Signature Theatre's production of Blackbeard. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

Signature Theatre concludes its 29th season with a World Premiere musical written by, in my opinion, one of the most underrated writing teams working in musical theatre today. Blackbeard written by John Dempsey (Book & Lyrics) and Dana P. Rowe (Music) has everything you could ever want in a musical. It features a high quality score, a great cast, excellent production values, and swordplay. What more do you need?

Blackbeard (Chris Hoch) aka Edward Teach just wants to be loved. His father known as Whitebeard was one of the most famous plunderers to sail the seas yet no one knows who Blackbeard is. Father and son have been estranged for quite some time now. When it's not too humid Blackbeard's beard can catch on fire on demand. When Blackbeard learns that Lt. Maynard (Ben Gunderson) is coming to get him and finish him off he asks the sea witch Dominique (Nova Y. Payton) for help in giving him enough backup to fight Maynard's huge army of men. Dominique of course wants something in return. She asks that Blackbeard bring her three jewels from various parts of the world which takes us on three harrowing adventures during the course of the show.

There is a big question to be answered here. After Blackbeard presents the jewels back to Dominique does all go well for him? See the show and find out for yourself.

Signature Theatre's Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer's concept for Blackbeard is top notch. The show is staged entirely on a pirate ship superbly designed by Paul Tate dePoo III. Schaeffer's direction has tons of energy and will keep even the youngest of audience members mesmerized from beginning to end.

Dempsey and Rowe's driving score does not have one bad song in it. With songs like "Who is Blackbeard?", "To Be a Pirate", and more you are sure to enjoy from the very first notes onward. The score is co-orchestrated by David Holcenberg and Scott Wasserman and features a dynamic sounding eight piece orchestra conducted by longtime Signature Theatre musical director Jon Kalbfleisch.

Matthew Gardiner's choreography takes off in the production number "Valhalla". The number actually reminded me a little bit of "War is a Science" from Pippin, just in the style of the choreography and overall feels of the song. That is a high compliment being compared to Bob Fosse and Gardiner really earned it this time around.

On the performance side of things, Chris Hoch as Blackbeard carries the show with a very strong portrayal. By the time we get to his eleven o'clock song "I Took the Journey" you are worn out and at the same time exhilarated.

Other standout performances include Rory Boyd as the very eager kid Roger who wants to become a pirate.

Maria Egler shows off her lush soprano sound as Blackbeard's muse La Mer. This is demonstrated with Eagler's solo turn entitled "Sail On".

The swashbuckling pirate ensemble features a cornucopia of Signature veterans including Kevin McAllister, Lawrence Redmond, Bobby Smith, Christopher Mueller, and Awa Sal Secka.

At my performance understudy Jessica Bennett was on in the role of Sally. I have to say that I hope to see more of this very talented young lady in the future.

Nova Y. Payton as Dominique like her star turn song says will hold you "Spellbound". Her wardrobe designed by Erik Teague is quite the outfit.

Obviously any show dealing with pirates is bound to have many fight sequences. Blackbeard is full of them and once again our local Lord of the Fight Casey Kaleba's work shows why he is one of the best in the business.

Chris Lee's moody lighting with stellar effects adds to the world Schaeffer and company have expertly created.

For those of us who have been following Dempsey and Rowe ever since Zombie Prom and hoping that one of their musicals would finally hit Broadway, Blackbeard should be the one that finally gets them there.

Signature Theatre is ending its 29th season on a very high note. Before heading to the beach, take a trip on the high seas at Signature Theatre with Blackbeard.

Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes with no intermission.

Blackbeard runs through July 14, 2019 in the MAX at Signature Theatre which is located at 4200 Campbell Ave, Arlington , VA. For tickets, click here.

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From This Author Elliot Lanes