Pirates come to life in swashbuckling 'Treasure Island'
Since he was a young boy, Larry Springer has loved Robert Lewis Stevenson’s classic tale of swashbuckling pirates and the hunt for buried treasure.
Thanks to Larry and his wife of 60 years, Patricia, audiences in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., will see the story come to life when The Morgan Arts Council’s Ice House Theater Project presents “Treasure Island — A Musical in Two Acts.” on stage next week.
“Treasure Island” was the first book he ever read, Springer said.
“Virtually every country in the world has done it,” he said. “It’s been done just about every way you can do it. It’s just a wonderful story and it’s so interesting because they are looking for buried treasure and people still do that today. And Robert Lewis Stevenson came up with so many interesting characters.”
He said he first wrote the book for the musical while teaching at a high school in Maryland in 1968-69.
Then, 19 years ago, after moving to Berkeley Springs, he adapted the book to match the young cast available in the town at the time, and enlisted Patricia to create new music for the production.
“That show was mainly cast with children due to the availability of the age of actors … at the time,” Patricia Springer said.
With more adult male actors in the area now, Larry Springer has adapted the musical’s book once again. Patricia Springer has also added and subtracted songs more accommodating to the newer show.
“It’s a very Darwin-like show that has evolved for over 40 years,” Larry Springer said. “It’s probably 75 percent different, with more adult dialogue. It’s the same characters just updated. The dialogue is more ‘piratey.’”
The story centers on young Jim Hawkins, who dreams of a life of adventure on the sea. He unwittingly comes into possession of an actual treasure map, and finds himself in the middle of a band of pirates led by the infamous Long John Silver, played by professional performer and local favorite Chuck Walker.
Springer said the show has comedy, dancing pirates and even a sentimental scene.
“It will appeal to all ages. The bad guys aren’t really that bad and the good guys really aren’t that good,” he said.
The Springers said they chose the husband-and-wife team of Tom and Beth Brooks of Berkeley Springs to direct their original musical because they are “fabulous.”
“I think what we find exciting about directing a new work is getting dialogue with the playwright and getting their feedback,” Tom Brooks said. “They have given us free rein, which is great because they trust us and we in turn trust them.”
Included in the cast of 24 local performers are West Virginia’s Singing Cowboy Paul M. Williams, veterinarian Jane Doyle, and deputy director of Morgan County’s Emergency Communications Center Sarah Hogbin. The directors said they are excited about this production as area theater-goers have the opportunity to enjoy a sea of new talent and recognize other local favorites, including Abbie Brown, Pam Mann, Bob Osbourne and Fred Herrmann.
“There are a wide variety of people we have in the cast. We have local favorites that people come to see and some great newcomers too,” Brooks said.
“We have so many wonderful singers,” Patricia Springer said. “We got really lucky with the cast.”
Newcomer Jonathan Coventry of Chevy Chase, Md., plays Jim Hawkins.
“He is Jim Hawkins. He just walked in off of the street and it was as if he walked right off the book cover,” Larry Springer said.
Coventry said he is relatively new to acting. He performed in his high school musical his senior year and recently took a couple of acting classes at a theater in Washington, D.C.
“I’ve always wanted to try acting, and I’m glad I’m finally getting the experience,” Coventry said.
“He is a natural,” Brooks added.
Coventry described his character as a clever but naive young man who dreams of more than his mundane life working at his mother’s inn.
“I like his energy. He’s very gung-ho and animated,” Coventry said. “I feel like I can indulge my childish side when I play him, worrying less about seeming ‘manly’ or mature, although I think Jim would like to think he’s both of those things.”
He said the character’s energy is also the most challenging part of playing the role.
“By nature I am very mellow and low-energy, so keeping up this energetic, enthusiastic personality throughout the show can be a challenge. I like the challenge, though; it’s exactly what I like about acting,” he said.
He described the musical as a classic pirate adventure story, the kind we all dreamed of as kids.
“The music is a lot of fun! My favorite songs belong to the pirates,” Coventry said. “Their songs are reminiscent of ‘The Pirates of Penzance;’ comical and merry. Pat Springer is a wonderful musician who has been working hard with all of us to make sure the songs fit our singing ranges. I’ve never had vocal training before, and she’s taught me techniques that have helped my voice a lot.”
There are eight performances from Sept. 26 to Oct. 6; Thursday through Saturday performances are at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees are at 2 p.m.
“September 26 is our pay what you can night,” Brooks said. “It is our preview so it’s a ‘donations are welcome’ kind of performance.”
This program is presented with financial assistance from the West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History, and the National Endowment for the Arts, with approval from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts, and local hotel/motel taxes. Sponsored by Morgan County for Forum, Arts, Science & Technology (FAST).
The Ice House is at the corner of Independence and Mercer Streets in downtown Berkeley Springs. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for MAC members, $5 for students 12 and up and can be purchased online at www.macicehouse.org. For play reservations or more information, call 304-258-2300 or visit the website.
Top photo: Chuck Walker, left, portrays Long John Silver and Fred Hermann is Squire Trelawney in the Morgan Arts Council’s Ice House Theater Project production of “Treasure Island — A Musical in Two Acts.” (Submitted photo)