Years ago I wrote the libretto for a musical version of "Treasure Island" with the generously gifted composer Gary William Friedman and his terrific lyricist Will Holt. We were all nominees for a Tony Award, mine was for the libretto of "The Rothschilds" and Will and Gary's for "The Me Nobody Knows." We lost (small sob here) to Stephen Sondheim's "Company," the Sondheim juggernaut had begun, but having admired each other's work we decided to get together to write a new musical. This musical was our "Treasure Island. " As a kid who was home from school a lot with childhood asthma, "Treasure Island" was not only one of the books that filled my days with reading, it filled my life with adventures and dreams. While I read it the hissing of the vaporizer became the roar of the ocean and I was Jim Hawkins setting out on the journey of a lifetime, and no pirate could get the best of me at ten years old. I thought myself "smart as paint" - exactly what Silver calls young Jim Hawkins.
What we created was a well-told tale with a rousing, tuneful score, with witty and soulful lyrics, the kind of musical that harkened back to the great age of musical theatre when melody ruled, and one left the theatre humming a song whose reprise stuck in your brain, and stayed with you for awhile. This show also dealt in a unique way with a father/son relationship, and with betrayal and forgiveness, something many young boys experience. All this was set to a rousing score, and ready to go forward. Alas, the producer of the work died suddenly and the musical found its way into that proverbial trunk until this year (30 years later) when Jeffrey Sanzel, a remarkable young producer/director at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson, Long Island, read the libretto, listened to an old recording of the score and decided to offer it to his audience, treating it as a jewel in his jewel box theater.
Theatre Three in Port Jefferson is of historic Civil War vintage, set in a small, charming, seaport town - and it seemed a fitting place for this show. So I had the joy of sitting in the audience last Sunday afternoon as the tale of Jim Hawkins and his pirate mentor Long John Silver played out to a full house, and received a standing ovation. This childhood favorite of mine reached out to adults as well, the production was painted in bold colors, but with a strange dark richness.
Seated beside me were my proud collaborators, my two adult sons, my seven-year-old granddaughter, six-year-old grandnephew, beautiful daughter-in-law, loving niece, and many friends. It was more than a show for me: it was a celebration. And now I was watching the show with my small grand kids who rushed onstage to meet the pirate cast and manipulate the stage parrot. I was for a moment that kid lying in bed reading that book filled with a sense of wonder at life and all its possibilities.
The show proved to be just as grand for me as the Newsday and Broadway World reviewers said it was. You can connect to these reviews on the links below.
Don't come to me for objectivity. As one of the authors I have a great interest in the success of this show but after so much time between its creation and this production I came as an audience member hoping for the experience that the great impresario Diaghilev demanded of art, "Astonish me!" And I was properly astonished in the very best way. The Broadway level of its directing, choreography, musical performance, sets, stagecraft and the acting, oh that acting was remarkable. What marvelously complex Long John Silver did the accomplished actor Steve McCoy create, and Hans Paul Hendrickson as Jim Hawkins was the epitome of youth setting out on the adventure of a lifetime. It's a large cast including a miraculous parrot and too many fine performers to mention here, but all deserving of my gratitude.
This is a glorious country for producing remarkable performers. But the opportunities are rarely equal to the talent. Many who deserve a fine Broadway career work in small theaters, and it confirms my belief that there is more unrecognized talent in America than those TV talent shows can call forth. This is all the more reason for keeping arts programs in our public schools - not as vocational training but as vital life enrichment, in its own way as important as computer skills. A friend of mine who majored in theater as an undergraduate and later received an MBA insists that her success in business comes more from her study of character and motivation in theater than from her business degree. Art is communication at its best and we ignore the teaching of it at our peril. Without it we are on the way to becoming a nation of text messengers.
After seeing "Treasure Island" for the first time in a full stage production I was more than ever convinced that we don't need the angel Clarence from that beloved old Jimmy Stewart movie to remind us that it can be a wonderful life. Thank you Jeff Sanzel and the cast of "Treasure Island" for making it all seem so worthwhile from inside that theatre and from the long telescopic view of time.