The Pirate Queen
|The Pirate Queen|
2006 Chicago Logo for The Pirate Queen
|Lyrics||Alain Boublil (French lyrics)
Richard Maltby, Jr. (English lyric adaptations)
John Dempsey (English lyric adaptations)
Richard Maltby, Jr.
|Basis||Morgan Llywelyn's novel
Grania: She-King of the Irish Seas
The Pirate Queen is a musical written by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil. John Dempsey is the co-lyricist. The Pirate Queen marks the first time Boublil and Schönberg have created a musical with American collaborators. It is based on the life and adventures of the 16th century Irish chieftain and pirate Gráinne O'Malley, who was one of the last Irish clan leaders to resist the English conquest of Gaelic Ireland.
After a Chicago production, the musical ran on Broadway from March to June 2007. The cast featured Stephanie J. Block as Grace O'Malley, Hadley Fraser as Tiernan and Linda Balgord, who was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for her performance as Queen Elizabeth I. The show received harsh appraisals from the critics and had weak sales.
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (October 2014)|
16th Century Ireland: a wild country ruled by feuding clans with long, noble histories. Most clans are landed, but some, such as Clan O’Malley, are sea-farers. King Henry VIII of England has decided to annexe Ireland, and his attacks have turned the Irish into patriots. The O’Malley pirates have begun plundering English treasure ships coming from China, India, and the West Indies in retribution.
When The Pirate Queen begins, Clan O’Malley is christening a new ship (“Prologue”). Grace (Gráinne) O’Malley, eighteen-year-old daughter and only child of Dubhdara, Chieftain of the O’Malley clan, has sneaked aboard ahead of time with Tiernan, a sailor and her childhood sweetheart. Tiernan, pursuing her in a game of hide-and-seek, finds her and they engage in a serious sword-fight, a game which has over the years turned Grace into a skilled fighter. On this day, however, the heat of their young love can’t be restrained any longer. They drop their swords and kiss passionately.
They are interrupted when the whole of Clan O’Malley arrives for the ship’s christening. Evleen, an old woman who is the spiritual voice of the Clan, gives Dubhdara a goblet of whiskey which he spills on the figurehead, naming the ship “The Pirate Queen.” A christening is one of the few events for which women are allowed aboard. Grace confesses to her father that she wants to be a sailor, but Dubhdara tells her it is impossible. A woman would disrupt the male crew, and there are superstitions that a woman on a ship brings bad luck. He orders Grace to leave the ship with the other women. Grace expresses her frustration to Tiernan (“Woman”).
Instead of going ashore, Grace disguises herself as a cabin boy and stows away. The Pirate Queen is barely out to sea when a terrifying storm comes up. A spar breaks and the mainsail cannot be brought down. A young sailor is needed to climb the rigging and cut the sail free. Grace volunteers. The sailors cheer the boy’s bravery, but are shocked to learn that the boy is the captain’s daughter. There is a woman on board!
Dubhdara is furious, yet he cannot avoid his pride at Grace’s heroism. And so he allows her to stay aboard the ship as a part of the crew. Since her mother’s death, Grace has been Dubhdara’s only family. Though he loves her deeply, he realises that he barely knows the passionate woman she has grown up to be (“My Grace”).
Tiernan is overjoyed that the woman he loves will be allowed to stay on the ship. Although their relationship must be kept secret, they swear themselves to each other in a kind of marriage ceremony (“Here on This Night”).
The Pirate Queen plans to intercept and sack English treasure ships – but instead, in a deep fog, the ship is attacked by a huge English warship. In the furious battle that ensues, Dubhdara is wounded and Grace instinctively takes charge. Though outmanned, Grace and the pirates manage to defeat the English soldiers and sink the warship. Dubhdara now sees the true power of his remarkable daughter and, against all tradition, decides to train her to be a sea captain like himself. Grace O’Malley has proven that she is The Pirate Queen.
In 1558, Henry VIII’s successor, Mary Tudor, dies suddenly, and to everyone’s surprise, Elizabeth, Henry VIII’s daughter by Anne Boleyn, ascends to the throne. Elizabeth knows that a young woman will not be taken seriously as a monarch and so, on the first day after her coronation, she resolves never again to let anyone see her as a female. She will be: “The Virgin Queen,” a monarch untouched by the taint of the flesh. Even her maidservants are never to gaze upon her unless she is clothed in her royal guise. (“The Waking of the Queen.”) Suitably arrayed, Elizabeth summons her court, and in one stroke shows her condescending ministers how forceful she intends to be as Queen (“Rah-Rah, Tip-Top”). The only disruption in her Empire, her royal advisor Sir Richard Bingham tells her, is rebellion in Ireland, a land her father failed to conquer completely. Not only that, but the English fleet is beset by a ferocious female sea captain named Grace O’Malley. Elizabeth instantly rescinds Bingham’s royal commission to Asia and instead names him Lord Governor of Ireland, with simple instructions: quell the Irish rebellion and kill this woman pirate.
Back in Ireland, the increased aggression from England forces Irish clans to take unheard-of measures. Dubhdara summons the chieftain of his clan’s most ancient rival, the Clan O’Flaherty, to a meeting in which he proposes that they put aside their ancient grudges and work together. The O’Flaherty Chieftain is sceptical, since their clans have not trusted one another for centuries. He suggests the only solution that can make such unity work: an arranged marriage between O’Malley’s daughter, Grace, and O’Flaherty’s son, Donal. When the marriage produces a son, the clans will be united. Grace is horrified, since she loves Tiernan, yet she knows the necessity for such a political act and agrees (“The Choice Is Mine”).
The night before the wedding, at a shebeen (tavern), Donal is mocked by friends and barmaids about his impending marriage to a woman famous as a murdering pirate who gives orders to men. Donal vows that he will tame this Pirate Queen (“Boys’ll Be Boys”).
The wedding takes place, presided over by Evleen and the two clan leaders (“The Wedding”). Tiernan watches as the wedding party leaves to take Grace and Donal from the O’Malley home in Clew Bay to Rockfleet, the seat of the O’Flaherty clan. Tiernan is devastated, yet something tells him that this is not the end, and that Grace will need him one day. His love for her is so great that he decides to stay near her (“I’ll Be There”).
Grace’s marriage to Donal, a drinker and a womaniser, is indeed difficult, particularly so when word comes that English troops have landed at Belclare, a town halfway between Rockfleet and Clew Bay. The O’Malley and O’Flaherty clans decide to attack the English from both sides. Grace wants to join the fight, but Donal tells her to stay behind with the other women. Grace is furious, but the women in town suddenly cry that the English army has landed. Belclare was a diversion, the real target being Grace herself. Richard Bingham’s ruse has worked: the town is deserted, except for “helpless females.” Grace mobilises the women. Pretending to be yokels, they seduce the soldiers and, when the men are most vulnerable, kill them. Grace spares only Bingham, telling him to return to England and tell his Queen that “he was bested by a woman.”
Donal and the O’Flaherty men return and learn of Grace’s triumph. She is now the acknowledged leader of the O’Flaherty women – news that disrupts Donal’s position in the clan. Simultaneously, Tiernan arrives with news that a skirmish with the English has left Dubhdara mortally wounded. Grace races off to Clew Bay, and Clan O’Flaherty goes with her (“A Day Beyond Belclare”).
Donal expects that if Dubhdara dies, his marriage to Grace will make him the chieftain of both clans. Dubhdara, however, does something remarkable. He passes the chieftain’s ring and mantle to Grace, making her the first woman ever to become leader of a clan. Dubhdara dies, and the clan gives him a sailor’s funeral, in a flaming boat set out to sea (“Sail to the Stars”).
As Act II begins, Grace, once again captain of The Pirate Queen, gives birth aboard ship. Donal waits, for a son will be heir to both clans, and thus give Donal power again (“Entr’acte”). The Queen is once again attacked by the English. Grace overhears Donal plead to Tiernan that the Irish surrender. Grace, against all arguments of her body, takes up a sword and joins the fight on deck (“Enemy at Port Side”). The Irish prevail, at considerable cost, but Grace can only think of Donal’s cowardice. According to Irish “Brehon Laws,” a marriage becomes permanent only after three years. Until then, either party may dismiss the other. Grace makes use of this law, and banishes Donal from her life (“I Dismiss You”).
Once again, Grace and Tiernan are free to be together (“If I Said I Loved You”).
In England, Elizabeth faces a complex dilemma. As Queen, her most important obligation is to take a consort and produce a child who will be her heir (“The Role of the Queen”). Many ambitious men in England imagine themselves rising to power by marrying Elizabeth, none more than Sir Richard Bingham, who suggests that the man who delivers Ireland into her hands will be the best candidate. Bingham is confident, for he has a new weapon at his disposal. Donal O’Flaherty has decided to betray Grace and his countrymen in exchange for reattaining his power as clan leader.
Donal arrives at the christening of his son Eoin like a penitent father (“The Christening / Let a Father Stand By His Son”). But the penitence is all pretence. Bingham and his English troops burst into the ceremony, killing many of the O’Malley clan and taking Grace prisoner. Donal and Tiernan engage in violent battle, during which Donal is killed. Tiernan takes the child to safety.
Grace is imprisoned for seven years, during which time Bingham completes his conquest of the Irish. He brings the Chieftains to England where they surrender their crowns to Elizabeth. Tiernan comes as well, to offer himself in exchange for Grace, so that she can return to her child (“Surrender”). Elizabeth is shocked that a man loves Grace O’Malley so much that he would sacrifice his life for hers. In Elizabeth’s life, the only men who pursue her are ambitious for themselves. To everyone’s amazement, Elizabeth accepts Tiernan’s offer and releases Grace (“She Who Has All”).
Grace returns to find Ireland despoiled by Bingham’s marauding English troops. Reunited with her son and seeing the Ireland Eoin will now inherit, Grace decides that she must take extreme action. She will go to England and plead the case for Ireland in front of the Queen herself. The people of Clew Bay refurbish The Pirate Queen, and Grace sets sail (“The Sea of Life”).
After her extraordinary act of clemency Elizabeth is enraged that Grace should return to England, but Grace pleads her case and appeals to Elizabeth not as a monarch but as a woman, urging the Queen not to ignore her nature but to use it to rule wisely. Elizabeth finds herself drawn to this female pirate she has hated for so long. The two women talk for two hours, in a historic private discussion whose precise content is unknown. At the end of this talk, Elizabeth restores to Grace O’Malley her lands and ships for her lifetime, and in addition, releases Tiernan from prison (“Woman to Woman”).
Grace and Tiernan return to Ireland where they are reunited with Eoin. At last they marry, and the Irish people celebrate with a plea for Ireland to be once and forever at peace (“Finale”).
In 2005, the show was scheduled to premiere in Chicago, and Playbill reported that Colm Wilkinson was in talks to star in the project. However, when casting was announced, Wilkinson was not included.
Towards the end of the Chicago run, Miss Saigon co-lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr. was brought in to work with Boublil on revisions to the book and lyrics in preparation for the Broadway opening. Additionally, Graciela Daniele worked on the musical staging.
The Broadway previews began at the Hilton Theatre on 6 March 2007, with the opening on 5 April. It closed on 17 June 2007 after 85 performances and 32 previews. Frank Galati directed, with musical staging by Graciela Daniele, Irish Dance choreography by Carol Leavy Joyce, and additional choreography by Mark Dendy. Musical direction and orchestrations were by Julian Kelly, with sets by Eugene Lee, costumes by Martin Pakledinaz and lighting by Kenneth Posner. Moya Doherty and John McColgan, creators of Riverdance, produced, with Edgar Dobie and Ronan Smith, of Doherty and McColgan's Riverdream production company, Executive Producers.
Linda Balgord received a Drama Desk Award nomination for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical for her performance as Queen Elizabeth I.
A studio recording of the original Broadway cast, produced by Masterworks Broadway, was released on 3 July 2007. The recording does not include the full score, but only highlights.
Characters and original Broadway cast
- Gráinne (Grace O'Malley) - Stephanie J. Block
- Queen Elizabeth I - Linda Balgord
- Tiernan - Hadley Fraser
- Donal - Marcus Chait
- Dubhdara - Jeff McCarthy
- Bingham - William Youmans
- Evleen - Áine Uí Cheallaigh
- Majella - Brooke Elliott
- Eoin - Steven Barath, Christopher Grey Misa
Critical response was mixed. Ben Brantley, reviewing in The New York Times, wrote that the show compares unfavorably with the composers' Les Misérables and that it registers as a relic of a long-gone era, but praised the performances of Block and Balgord. The Variety reviewer wrote: "all-plot, no-heart new show is persuasively sung by a valiant cast, yet it never forges an emotional connection with the audience."
The show received no Tony Award nominations and faced steadily declining grosses and high weekly running costs. When the show closed, it was reported by The New York Times that it had lost "at least $16 million."
† Indicates songs that are not on the Original Broadway Cast Recording.
Awards and nominations
Original Broadway production
|2007||Drama Desk Award||Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical||Linda Balgord||Nominated|
|Drama League Award||Distinguished Performance Award||Stephanie J. Block||Nominated|
|Outer Critics Circle Award||Outstanding Choreography||Carol Leavy Joyce and Graciela Daniele||Nominated|
|Outstanding Costume Design||Martin Pakledinaz||Nominated|
- Jones, Kenneth (3 November 2005). "Frank Galati Will Stage 2006 World Premiere of The Pirate Queen, by Les Miz Writers". Playbill. Retrieved 13 May 2006.
- Jones, Kenneth (3 November 2005). "Stephanie J. Block Is The Pirate Queen; New Show By Les Miz Writers Sets Sail in Fall". Playbill. Retrieved 13 May 2006.
- Jones, Kenneth.The Pirate Queen Sails Into Her Chicago Opening Oct. 29" playbill.com, 29 October 2006
- Jones, Kenneth (5 June 2007). "New Broadway Musical The Pirate Queen Sails Away June 17". Playbill. Retrieved 6 June 2007.
- New York Times review, Brantley, Ben, April 6, 2007, "THEATER REVIEW | 'THE PIRATE QUEEN'" Retrieved 5 February 2008
- Variety review, Rooney, David, April 5, 2007 Retrieved 5 February 2008
- Variety article, Rooney, David, June 5, 2007 Retrieved 5 February 2008
- New York Times article, Robertson, Campbell, June 12, 2007, "As the Cheering of Tony Night Fades, Broadway Still Faces a Summer of Closings" Retrieved 5 February 2008
- The Pirate Queen IBDB listing
- Plot, songs and scenes at guidetomusicaltheatre.com
- The Author of GRANUAILE: Ireland's Pirate Queen (Grace O'Malley) 1530–1603 by Anne Chambers Official Site
- Official site