Pleasure cruise


Book, music and lyrics by Tom Kleb
Directed by Maryann Lombardi
Thane Hunter Productions LLC
The Bank Street Theatre
155 Bank Street (212/206-1515)
Equity showcase (closes April 6)
Review by Brittney Jensen

If you like pirates (and who doesn't?) check out Calthropia, described in the program as "a musical comedy about pirates and other corporate types." The extraordinary talents of the writer, director, cast and production team combined to create an evening of rollicking entertainment.

Modern-day businessmen scouting a site for a beach-front development run into a paranormal (not paranoid, he insists) researcher who explains the New Jersey Trapezoid phenomena (similar to the Bermuda triangle, but much more amusing). Eighteenth-century pirates, time-traveling via the misty trapezoid, capture the contemporary group and take them aboard their ship, the Scumby. Hilarious musical chaos ensues.

The confused pirates think the prisoners in suits are missionaries trying to convert those in bathing attire, who must be savages. This theory is upset by the discovery of the beachgoers' Piglet beach towel, which the pirates take to be a royal coat of arms. From here the plot takes multiple zany turns, touching on buried treasure, mysterious strangers, embezzlement, mutiny, and romance, while good-naturedly making fun of everything from corporate culture to American speech to New Jersey. Even musicals themselves are fodder for satire. In the opening song one character ends a verse of multiple rhymes by singing "I think we need a rest/From lines that end with 'est'," and director Maryann Lombardi's inventive staging pokes fun at romantic duets, classical ballet, and Les Miserables.

The press release describes the musical style of composer and author Tom Kleh as "reminiscent of Gilbert and Sullivan with Porter and Gershwin influences." Calthropia resembled these composers' madcap masterpieces -- no profound messages or tight logic, just campy fun. The play's abundance of characters and meandering subplots sometimes resulted in mild confusion and a lack of dramatic tension, but witty lyrics and snappy one-liners ensured continual amusement.

The cast was uniformly excellent, exhibiting lively characterizations and Broadway-caliber voices. The contemporary cast included Ed Schiff as Calthrop, the pompous CEO/CFO/COO of CalCorp; Jeanne Tinker as his wisecracking assistant Ms. Bratwaller; Jim Phillips as wimpy employee Liffley; and Anson Hedges as conniving manager Conway. Mark Ledbetter as the paranormal researcher and Emily Shoolin as his frustrated girlfriend Amy provided some of the play's most touching moments (and plenty of ridiculous ones too, as Amy starts to believe the romance novels she reads). Aboard the Scumby, Michael D. Dionissiou played the seductively silver-tongued Captain Quick and Lauren Volkmer was his haughty fiancée Lady Everdown. Bryce Cahn, Sterling Coyne, Nick Darrow, Michael Tourek, and Ryan Williams each had their comic moments as distinctly individual members of the bawdy crew.

Robin McGee's colorful costumes, Eliza Brown's inventive set, and Rebecca M. K. Makus's mood-enhancing lighting added to the fun. Musical director/arranger Douglas Maxwell provided spirited piano accompaniment to the many songs. One couldn't help wondering what the music would sound like with an orchestra in a longer run with a bigger budget -- which this polished and delightful production deserves.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Sets: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2003 Brittney Jensen