A band of pirates recently took to the Valley Youth Theatre stage in Phoenix for the Arizona premiere of “How I Became a Pirate.” It stars Sam Primack as Jeremy Jacob and producing artistic director Bobb Cooper, who has a knack for comedy and song, as Braid Beard.
Primack, a 6th grader at Cocopah Middle School in Scottsdale, also has performed with Greasepaint Youtheate, Phoenix Theatre, Desert Stages Theatre and Childsplay. He’s the youngest member of the cast, which includes students from Arizona School for the Arts, Marcos de Niza High School, Mesquite High School, Sunnyslope High School and Paradise Valley Community College.
“How I Became a Pirate” imagines the adventures of a young boy named Jeremy who sails away with pirates after tiring of his parents’ constant reminders about homework and soccer practice. He’s intrigued by the pirates’ way of life, which doesn’t include bedtimes or good manners.
Over time, Jeremy discovers a few downsides. There’s no one to tuck him in at night or read him stories. And sleeping on the deck of a pirate ship isn’t as comfortable as bunking down in your own soft bed. When the pirates seek a place to bury their treasure, Jeremy leads them to his own back yard before saying goodbye.
Saturday’s second matinee audience was filled with families. Before the show started, music director Mark Fearey invited young children to head for a carpeted area in front of the stage where sitting on the floor put children closest to the on-stage action. That’s a VYT tradition.
Feary also encouraged those dressed in pirate costumes to walk on stage and pose for a picture with a large sand castle that’s one of the musical’s main set pieces. Normally photography isn’t allowed in the theater, but VYT is running a photo contest during “How I Became a Pirate” and the child whose photo gets the most online votes wins a pair of passes for VYT’s 2012/13 season.
VYT is the first Arizona theater to perform “How I Became a Pirate,” which features book, music and lyrics by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman. It’s based on a children’s book written by Melinda Long and illustrated by David Shannon. Bobb Cooper directs the VYT production, which must have some people wondering how he managed to give himself notes.
“How I Became a Pirate” is cleverly written, relying on puns and plays on words for much of its humor. It opens with a playful medley of “Pirate Chants” and ends with a song called “Pirates Dot Arggh.” In between, Jeremy learns to “Talk Like a Pirate” and “Batten Down the Hatches.” Be prepared for plenty of pirate talk from “Ahoy matey!” to “Thar she blows!” after your kids see the show.
The show has two acts and a total of 13 songs, so it’s a good length for young theater goers who aren’t yet accustomed to sitting quietly through longer productions. Little ones will miss some of the humor, such as a references to “Gilligan’s Island,” but still enjoy seeing a band of pirates on stage singing about green teeth and eye patches.
The cast for “How I Became a Pirate” includes Austin McMains (Swill the Pirate), Emmanuel Aire (Sharktooth the Pirate), Joey Iannitelli (Pirate Pierre), Luke Ottinger (Max the Pirate), William Diehl (Pirate Seymour Braunschwagger) and Tim Oakes (Pirate Scurvy Dog) — plus Primack and Cooper.
The production staff includes Cori Brown (choreographer), Karol Cooper (costume designer), Dori Brown (lighting designer) and others. Sarah Trickel’s scenic design is especially impressive. A giant backdrop and side panels painted like blue sky and billowing white clouds greets audiences when they arrive, and the helm of a giant pirate ship replaces the sand castle once Jeremy sets sail with his pirate pals.
It’s hard to watch “How I Became a Pirate” without comparing it to Nickelodeon’s “Dora’s Pirate Adventure,” which VYT premiered in Arizona this time last year. The Nickelodeon musical featured a younger and more energetic cast, and felt more clearly written for children.
It seemed adults laughed more than children during the performance I saw on Saturday, making me wonder whether ”How I Became a Pirate“ is a treasure still buried in a chest marked “children’s theater” when it’d be a far better piece re-worked into a pirate parody for adult audiences.
Still, I appreciate the fact that VYT seasons often combine classic and new works of theater, and know they’re eager to produce shows that appeal to audience members of all ages.
VYT invited youth served by HopeKids in Cave Creek, which offers programs for children and teens facing life-threatening illness, to watch the final technical rehearsal for “How I Became a Pirate” last week. Artwork created by HopeKids youth through Young Arts Arizona, a Phoenix non-profit that exhibits children’s artwork, is displayed on several walls inside the VYT theater.
Show-related merchandise is for sale in the theater lobby, and several children at the performance I attended had a great time playing with large inflatable pirate swords. After the performance, costumed cast members cheerfully greeted audience members in the VYT audience, often signing autographs in children’s programs and posing for pictures.
Attending “How I Became a Pirate” with friends in costume would make for a fun birthday party or Halloween outing. The show is being performed through Sunday, Oct. 28 at Valley Youth Theatre, 525 N. First St. in Phoenix. Click here for details about this and other productions in VYT’s 2012-13 season.