Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
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 www.ardentheatre.org.