WEST VALLEY CITY — The span of musical theater has seen many composing giants, and some of those composers and creative duos have actually changed the way musicals are constructed and told: Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Stephen Sondheim, and Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil.
Perhaps not household names, Schönberg and Boublil created one of Broadway’s biggest stars: “Les Miserables,” the third longest-running musical in the world. It was nominated for 12 Tony Awards and won eight, including Best Musical and Best Score. “Les Miz” and their other hit, “Miss Saigon,” have played all over the world, from professional tours to high school productions.
Schönberg and Boublil were instrumental in the through-sung musical movement, in which all or most of the dialogue is sung rather than spoken (“The Phantom of the Opera” and “Miss Saigon” are examples). This format allows the duo to tackle weighty subjects, typically historical in nature.
In 2007, the two opened their most recent epic, “The Pirate Queen,” which had a brief run on Broadway. Wanting to see it with a fresh perspective, the composers, along with Music Theatre International, handpicked Hale Centre Theatre to mount a regional debut.
“We are so fortunate to have been chosen to produce this magnificent musical composed by two giants in the theater world,” HCT vice president Sally Dietlein said in a news release. “This is a must-see show.”
“This show is based on the true life story of Grace O’Malley, who was an Irish clan leader and a contemporary of Queen Elizabeth I — late 16th, early 17th century,” director Dave Tinney said. “She was a fiery, defiant figure and incredibly resilient. She was able to unite the feuding clans of Ireland against the queen’s attempt at conquering Ireland.”
Tinney notes the show is a highly romanticized telling of her life and the events that brought her face to face with Queen Elizabeth.
“If you think ‘Les Miz’ meets the score to ‘Riverdance,’ that’s kind of the basic style of the show,” he said. “It definitely has some signature Boublil/Schönberg sounds, but there are some great new Celtic elements with an occasional rock edge. … This show is absolutely epic.”
The production features more than 2 miles of nautical rope creating a stylized theme, fast-paced Irish step dancing, real swords and hundreds of costumes, including a 7-foot, 53-pound masterpiece.
HCT rented all of the queen’s wardrobe from the Broadway production.
“The costumes for Queen Elizabeth alone, which need to be elaborate and period accurate, would have taken months to build,” Tinney said. “They are spectacular, and it has allowed our costumers to focus on the hundreds of other pieces in the show.”
With the show being set in Ireland, the cast has had plenty of homework to do.
“We always try to start the cast early with dialect training,” Tinney said. “Some take to it faster than others, of course. But we were fortunate in that our Celtic choreographer, Alan Scariff, is from Galway, Ireland, which is not far from where the events in the show take place.”
The performers’ studying didn’t stop there.
“We made the whole cast go through a stage combat and Celtic dance boot camp,” Tinney said. “We were pretty brutal; they are really stepping up to the challenge.”
Tinny said the show presents audiences with “a great opportunity” to see a new work and to be a part of its continued development.
“I think it’s amazing when a company and an audience will take a chance on a new work of this scale,” he said. “Utah audiences are so smart and so supportive, and we have such a rich theater community. I think that’s the reason we can do these new pieces.”
Content advisory: "The Pirate Queen" includes a tavern scene with implied drinking, sword fights and fake violence — all at a lower level than would be seen in "Les Miz," according to the director.
If you go ...
What: “The Pirate Queen”
Where: Hale Centre Theatre, 3333 S. Decker Lake Drive, West Valley City
When: Feb. 12-April 2, times vary, matinees available
How much: $32-$35
Erica Hansen was the theater editor at the Deseret News for more than three years. An area performer, she was also the original host of the radio program "Showtune Saturday Night."