“Blackbeard” – Herberger Theater Center

This review aired on KBAQ September 22, 2008


Spire Music, Center Stage, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

Rob Gardner, the creative person behind “Blackbeard,” the world premiere musical at the Herberger Theater Center, has some nerve. In August, the show’s author, composer, and conductor, wrote a misleading press release saying that new musicals never happen here. He stated this while Phoenix Theatre was presenting the stunning premiere musical, “Unbeatable.”

Gardner’s pretensions are astounding. Not only is “Blackbeard” one of several new shows to grace local stages recently, but every other premiere show has been superior to Gardner’s awkwardly constructed fiasco.

His idea seems interesting. Develop a musical around the notorious pirate, Blackbeard, who blockaded Charleston’s harbor in the early 18th century. But Gardner chooses to be preachy as he adds a pompous moral message to the story. Blackbeard ends up dead as does his lady, Mary, a lesson that pirates never succeed. No kidding.

Nothing here rings true and the stereotypical characters seem fake and unreal. Gardner drags his poky plot over two-and-a-half dull hours. Not one character grows or changes from their initial entrance. Good musicals have multi-faceted characters who find new directions or new ways to approach their lives. Even if the characters don’t change, a good musical lets audiences discover various things about the characters as the plot progresses. Too many “Blackbeard” characters are also blatantly offensive.

Gardner’s mediocre musical numbers copy better songs from superior shows that represent the best of this genre. Gardner uses the through-sung style so there’s almost no dialogue in “Blackbeard,” but the songs don’t advance the story or tell us anything interesting about the characters.

Director/choreographer Cambrian James fails to ignite any creative juices as he adapts his plodding staging from other, more effective, shows. The multiple story locations are played in front of a bland unit set that looks like a sad ship.

The inept cast is headed by Tyler and Linsey Maxson who play the title character and Mary with no flourish, acting acumen, or any ability to make these characters anything but wooden stereotypes. Neither sings exceptionally well. Jere Van Patten plays the swishy Major Stede Bonnet with offensive mannerisms. As the young lovers, Lt. Robert Maynard and Anne, Jordan Bluth and Kaitlynn Kleinman sing agreeably but portray their roles with unconvincing blandness. No other cast member demonstrates a bit of musical theater savior faire to bring these uninteresting characters to life.

“Blackbeard” is unlikely to create any interest beyond the loyal friends and family who made up most of the smallish audience when I saw it. It continues through September 27. It won’t be heard from again. For tickets, call the Herberger Theater Center box office at 602-252-8497.

Grade: F