Avast, ye mateys! All manner of riches await you in "Treasure Island," the latest swashbuckling adventure from Children's Theatre of Charlotte. In this case, the jewels are the sparkling yet deeply realized performances of the exemplary cast and the gold is the brilliant set, costume and sound design.
Adapted from the 1883 classic by Robert Louis Stevenson, with respectful enthusiasm and savvy showmanship by playwright Ken Ludwig ("Lend Me a Tenor," "Moon Over Buffalo"), the stripped-to-essentials script presents a streamlined and exciting entertainment for audiences of all ages. Director Alan Poindexter keeps the pace fleet and the spirits high during the two-hour show (with one 15-minute intermission).
"Treasure Island" tells the story of plucky Jim Hawkins (Isaac Josephthal), a 14-year-old charged with running the Admiral Benbow Inn after the death of his father. The fugitive pirate Billy Bones (a blustery and commanding Chad Calvert) arrives at the inn with a map to buried treasure that he entrusts to Jim on his deathbed.
Circumstances force Jim to share the secret of his new map with friends, one of whom happens to be a blabbermouth with a ship. Another, a stranger who claims to be an old friend of his father's, is really Captain Long John Silver (Mark Sutton), leader of a pack of pirates who lay claim to the map and its treasures.
Josephthal turns in a vivacious performance as young Jim. He is propelled by youthful gusto, steely resolve, naïve optimism, and - when he discovers the truth about a beguiling father figure he thought was his friend - enraged disillusionment.
Jim Hawkins might be the moral center of the story, but Long John Silver is its moral compass. And a fascinating, conflicted compass he is. Stumping along on a marvelously realized peg leg, Sutton is a father figure of surprising and unconventional virtue. His nuanced performance is impressive in its depth of character and he and Josephthal make a believable, moving team.
The supporting cast is an excellent ensemble and accomplishes the illusion of making only a dozen actors seem like many more, filling the stage with an array of buccaneering rascals and proper Brits.
Notable is Ashby Blakely's Squire Trelawney (blabbermouth and owner of the ship Hispaniola), an imperious fusspot who manages to keep his wig perfectly powdered even while under siege in the torrid climes of a tropical isle. Blakely's comic timing is impeccable and his every line drew guffaws from the audience.
James Dracy's villainous Israel Hands is a fine, blackhearted reprobate, while Steven Ivey's Dr. Livesey is a suitably multilayered good-guy foil. Jon Parker Douglas, as the madman castaway Ben Gunn (among several roles) is hilarious in his quest for cheese.
Scenic designer Bob Croghan (with the atmospheric assistance of David Fillmore Jr.'s lighting design) outdoes himself, creating a wonderfully flexible world of ropes and planks and pulleys that easily shifts from ship to shore. The backdrops and scrim are gorgeous re-creations of N.C. Wyeth's original illustrations (especially the map to Skeleton Island). One particularly remarkable effect occurs in port when the ships' bowsprit (a long pole with furled sails) protrudes from stage left and right.
Croghan also is responsible for the luxurious period costumes. Fight choreographer Tim Ross creates all-hands-on-deck fisticuffs of skull-thumping veracity. (Be aware that there is some bloodshed, mild cursing and consumption of alcohol, and that the recommended age for this production is 10 and up.) Elisheba Ittoop's original music and Van Coble Jr.'s sound design also deserve applause.
"Treasure Island" flies the flag for good old-fashioned ensemble storytelling, a hallmark of CTC productions. You and your family will be richer for discovering this treasure.