By: Sam Affoumado
Presented by Theatre East, Devil and the Deep, is the world premiere of a
new musical re-imagining of Robert Louis Stevenson’s much-adapted
classic, Treasure Island.
When young Jim Hawkins (Ethan Gabriel Riordan) finds himself in
possession of a treasure map, he is launched into one of the greatest life-
changing adventures of all time. This 18th century coming-of-age tale of
danger and heroism on the high seas, introduces us to some of the most
colorful characters in literature.
In this adaptation by Melissa Bell (book and additional lyrics), some of the
original Stevenson characters are altered. Squire Trelawney and Dr. Livesey are original characters that have been enveloped by the character of Captain Smollett (Bill Newhall) and to keep things on an even gender keel, Ben Gunn is now Benita Gunn (Courtney Shaw) and Israel Hands is Mizzy Hands (Lisha McKoy). Though period purists might object, these character alterations serve the story well. In truth, there were female pirates during this tumultuous era.
The storyline in Devil in the Deep has something for everyone:
Swashbuckling pirates, adventure on the high seas, the promise of gold and riches, loyalty and friendship, treachery and deceit, the warmth of family and the magic of talking parrots. How can you go wrong, when your musical is based on Treasure Island?
We meet the deceitful and morally complex, peg-legged pirate, Long John
Silver (Eric Coles), who serves as mentor and a father figure to young
Hawkins. Silver is cunning and mendacious as he hides his true intentions
while posing as the ship’s genial cook. Eric Coles’ performance captures the charismatic side but never quite reveals the gritty, steel-edged side of Long John Silver that should make the audience shudder. He is often upstaged by Cap’n Flint, the extraordinary puppet-parrot (Skyler Volpe).
The exuberant and youthful cast does its best to transport us from our safe, ordinary lives to a place where battles are fought and won, treasure is found and virtue triumphs. Unfortunately, the pirates in this production do not exude the grit and ferocity that Stevenson’s characters invoke. On the other hand, the endearing Jim Hawkins (Ethan Gabriel Riordan), the warm and loving widow Mother Hawkins (Raissa Katona Bennett) and the adorably crazed and feisty Benita Gunn (Courtney Shaw) bring their characterizations to life and are the cast standouts.
The music and Lyrics by Graham Russell and Katie McGhie include some
notable songs. The heartfelt "Be Who You Must Be, the cleverly crafted
"Benita Knows" and the island-inspired "Parrot Talk" are memorable. I only wish the rest of the score was as inspired.
Kudos to Sarita Lou for her fluid choreography, to Alex Reed for his well-
orchestrated fight scenes, to Alisa Simonel-Keegan and Jim Keegan for their extraordinary, multi-purpose sets, to Adrienne Carlile for her wonderful period costumes and to Tanya Khordoc and Barry Weil for their brilliant puppet creations.
Lisa Devine’s direction of this lively production is better at conjuring mood
than shaping dramatic moments. Devil in the Deep examines the essence of heroism, the journey to maturity and the strength of the human spirit in the face of extreme conditions. Though exuberant in parts, the evening as a whole is a bit yo-ho-hum.
Music and Lyrics: Graham Russell, Katie McGhie
Book and Additional lyrics by Melissa Bell
Director: Lisa Devine
Cast: Ethan Riordan, Raissa Katona Bennett, Bill Newhall, Eric Coles, Lisha McKoy,
Courtney Shaw, Juan Luis Espinal, Kyle Minshew, Nick Ritacco, Kire Tosevski, Skyler
Volpe, and Kalyn West.
Music Director/Arranger: Josh Freilich
Choreographer: Sarita Moore
Costume Design: Adrienne Carlile
Set Design: Alisa Keegan
Lighting Design: Jess Burgess
Sound Design: John D. Ivy
Puppetry Design: Tanya Khordoc & Barry Weil (Evolve Company)
Fight Choreographer: Alex Reed
Running Time: Two hours with intermission
Theatre: Theater 3 at 311 West 43rd Street (3rd floor)
Tickets: $18 (212) 239-6200
FOLLOW US ON FACEBOOK AND TWITTER