“Free to be Grace/So I can feel the wind on my face!”

I haven’t been paying too close attention to the trials and tribulations of The Pirate Queen since first noting its impending launch onto Broadway’s choppy seas – those trials included a $10million revamp following a lukewarm reception in Chicago, with the final production estimated to have cost $27million. [and that includes the cost of the CastCom – Ed] But Grace O’Malley’s tale boarded the Hilton Theatre, NY, this week.. [Run time: TBA – Ed] to less than ecstatic reviews.. as Marion McKeone in the Irish Times notes [subs req]Here are some of the reviews noted in the Irish Times..

From Variety

The sad realization of watching “The Pirate Queen” is not that it’s especially bad, but that despite its dense action and wealth of conflict (both of the heart and the sword), it’s dull. It’s a relief in this context to be jarred out of boredom by the crotch-thrusting, hip-grinding vulgarity and innuendo-drenched lyrics (“I may well have to beach her/Take her inland to teach her”) of Chait’s act-one song, “Boys’ll Be Boys” — a raucous pub number filled with lusty lads and brassy tarts, which corresponds precisely to “Master of the House” in “Les Miz.” Elsewhere, this is a plodding Harlequin historical romance. For all its inflamed passions, it never ignites.

The Associated Press review

To its credit, “The Pirate Queen” strives for a certain authenticity. Carol Leavy Joyce is billed as the show’s Irish dance choreographer and some of the numbers, particularly a wedding dance, lift the musical’s sagging story.

Like Grace, Balgord’s Queen Elizabeth faces similar obstacles because of her sex — and triumphs in spite of them. Yet her main opponent, Sir Richard Bingham, is almost played for laughs, particularly in William Youmans’ caricature of a performance.

Balgord has considerable stage presence and a voice able to negotiate even the most difficult of melodies. The actress is decked out in some of designer Martin Pakledinaz’s most opulent costumes, a different and more elaborate outfit for every entrance.

Yet in the end, “The Pirate Queen” remains a dry history lesson, a musical that presents the past in such a perfunctory manner that Grace O’Malley sinks in a sea of ordinary.

The New York Post

IMAGINE “Les Miserables” going out to meet “Riverdance” and somehow missing the boat. That’s what happened with “The Pirate Queen,” which opened last night.

And finally, the New York Times’ Ben Brantley

Sword fights, frolicsome jigs, flag hoisting, rope pulling, stately processions, mincing minuets and hearty river dancing (with ship paddles, no less): such circulation-stimulating exercises occur regularly in this singing costume drama of love and patriotism on the high seas — sometimes, it seems, all at the same time.

Yet everything ultimately blurs into what feels like the aimless milling of a crowd on a carnival midway. The operating theory behind “The Pirate Queen” would appear to be taken from an appropriately ocean-themed bit of zoology: if, like a shark, it never stops moving, then it will stay alive. The optimism is misplaced.

Ouch. Those are not likely to feature in the Pirate Queens’ own list of review quotes..

The Irish Times, while predicting the ship will stay afloat for now, also has some very scary maths

The question for Doherty and McColgan is whether The Pirate Queen can survive, whether a musical based on an ancient Irish myth can strike a universal chord. On the plus side, a tale of two women may appeal to women, who buy more than two-thirds of Broadway tickets. Musicals tend to play by more variable rules; a mauling by Ben Brantley usually spells sudden death for a play. But, largely because of the curious demographics that rule Broadway, if word of mouth is good enough, a musical can shake off even the most eviscerating of reviews.

Research shows that only one-fifth of Broadway’s 12 million visitors are New Yorkers, a third are international tourists, and the remainder are the out-of-towners: middle-income American families for whom a Broadway spectacular is an essential part of a trip to the Big Apple. New Yorkers tend to be the most discerning, and the most influenced by reviews; they also tend to opt for works by established playwrights. Out-of-towners are the Broadway musical’s bread and butter.

Jordan Thaler, a director of New York Public Theatre, says that where word of mouth is positive, entertainment seekers tend to ignore the New York-based critics. “Typically, out-of-towners go to Broadway in search of a spectacle, an experience rather than a critically acclaimed production,” he says. “Catching a show is an expensive business for a family of four, and they want to see their money onstage. They want dazzling pyrotechnics, they want Hollywood style special effects. But they want some emotional bang for their bucks.”

Whatever the critics think, The Pirate Queen is safe for the time being. Some canny marketing ensured advance sales of $7 million (€5.2 million) for the Broadway production, enough to boast full houses for at least a month. To keep afloat, a Broadway musical needs to be pulling in at least $1 million (€750,000) a week in box office receipts. For The Pirate Queen to recoup its investment, Broadway veterans estimate that it needs to play to full houses for three to four years.

It’s a tall order, especially in light of this week’s reviews.

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  • On a wing and a prayer

    No matter what the critics are saying you’ll be disappointed to learn Pete that the audiences are going wild for it. See Derek O’Connor in today’s Tribune.

  • merrie

    The songs for this show sound really corny to me, but critics may pan a show and it is still a real success. Look at “We Will Rock You”. Still going strong in London’s West End.