Climbing aboard Ars Nova’s Jollyship the Whiz-Bang, a “pirate-puppet-rock odyssey,” is initially worrisome. One fears that after three Pirates of the Caribbean movies, the establishment of National Talk Like a Pirate Day, and the opening of a McSweeney’s store where peg legs can be purchased, the subject of piracy might seem tired. But the pop songs and vulgar puppets (and Ars Nova’s reasonably priced Dark and Stormys) somehow render the material sea-spray fresh. For the next few weeks, audiences can join this joyfully stupid and shamefully entertaining voyage—a mix of puppet show, rock concert, and obscene sea story.
Master and commander Nick Jones, the show’s creator and lead singer, voices Captain Clamp, a mangy puppet who “couldn’t rape his way out of a paper bag.” Instead of pursuing plunder and sexual assault, Clamp contents himself with doing keg stands and making the cabin boy walk the plank. Also, Clamp likes to sing. His songs don’t tax the intellect or the rhyming dictionary, though. “Party Island,” for example, includes the lyrics: “We’re off to party island/We’re off to party island/We’re off to party island/Yo ho ho.” Happily, Jones and his crew-cum-backup-band play the power pop with enthusiasm and unexpected precision. Sam Gold directs with a nicely high-style/low-budget sensibility, using lots of tinsel and a smoke machine.
Like many a pirate, the musical suffers somewhat when it transfers from ship to shore, where Jones and co-creator Raja Azar attempt to introduce a plot, a love interest, and a villain known as Dread Marvin. They should stick to numbers like “I Killed the Cabin Boy” and “Don’t Mutiny (on Me).” Ah, “to live a life,” as Captain Clamp says, “of romance, adventure, swashbuckling, and syphilis.” The next time this crew sets sail for Party Island, I hope I’m along for the ride.