When I first heard that the Arkansas Repertory Theatre would have an original production of the classic tale "Treasure Island," I was ecstatic.

Several questions ran through my mind: How could this amazing story be captured on stage? Would the plot somewhat differ from the original story? How authentic could the characters really be? And really, what kind of music would carry the production?

Of course, I knew that if any theater could pull it off, The Rep could.

And boy, was I right!

After seeing the world premiere of "Treasure Island: A New Musical" last Friday, all of my little doubts were cast away. Not only did the production encapsulate the story on just about every level, the tale stayed true to coming-of-age classic by Robert Louis Stevenson while adding a fresh take, and the extremely talented cast truly catapulted the play to new heights, not to mention, the dramatic score kept the production going strong with every twist and turn.

"Treasure Island: A New Musical," which opened last week, is directed and choreographed by Brett Smock and tells the story of young Jim Hawkins (Logan Rowland) -- a boy looking for adventure in his life who was enticed by the wild world of Captain Billy Bones (Christopher Carl). His wish is soon granted as members of the infamous Captain Flint crew pursue Billy and his hidden treasure map.

When Billy dies in a struggle for the map, Jim escapes with his life and the captain's prize possession. With a strong crew in place led by very gritty, very strong-willed peg-leg Long John Silver (Richard B. Watson), and with Jim under the protection of Dr. David Livesey (David Hess), Squire John Trelawney (Michael Thomas Holmes) and a stoic ship’s captain, Captain Alexander Smollett (Christopher Carl), they set sail in search of their fortunes. But as greed escalates on the months-long journey, mutiny erupts and loyalties are forever broken.

At the beginning of Act One, the audience is introduced to the entire company -- pirates and all-- belting their powerful voices on the elaborate one-piece wooden set that is highlighted with several staircases and colorful sails. What's amazing is the set encompasses the entire stage and just about every inch is utilized during the course of the play.

It's the 1700s in England and what we see is the close-knit relationship between Jim and his protective mother Mary Hawkins (Kristy Cates), who live at the Admiral Benbow Inn. It's there where the young boy meets Billy and discovers his treasure map -- a highly "treasured" item among many.

From the beginning, pretty intense action heats up the stage as the crew fights for that special piece of paper. And once Billy passes away and the map comes into Livesey's and Trelawney's possession, that's where the journey really begins.

The audience becomes immersed in this pirate culture where you feel like you're on deck as the crew is rigging the sails and tossing barrels and bales about. This especially rings true during the big thunderstorm where flickering lights and intense music indundate the theater while the crew sings in harmony -- one of my favorite scenes of the night.

What really jumps out at you are the amazing costumes -- authentic down-and-dirty pirate garb that was ripped, tattered and torn, mismatched, patched up and everything in between. Each member of the hardscrabble tattooed crew looked like they each had spent months working day-in and day-out, keeping the Hispaniola ship afloat.

And you can't miss the passionate performances by the precocious lead Jim, who the audience sees transform throughout the production from a young boy thirsting for adventure to an assertive and determined seaman who isn't afraid to confront his troubles, particularly when his loyalty is tested by Silver. At one point, he tells a somewhat tortured seaman under the direction of Silver "the gates of heaven won't be open if you live like a dog" after the captain tells him to wear a dog collar.

Silver, himself, is also a standout who brings a colorful and authentic character to the stage with his hearty guffaws and towering rage toward the end of the story. The one-legged captain is a force to be reckoned with.

Another strong performance comes from a character in the play who brought a heavy dose of laughter and a burst of energy to the stage as the "island creature" -- Ben Gunn, played by film actor Patrick Richwood, someone who has been featured in major flicks like "The Princess Diaries," "Pretty Woman" and "Armageddon." His off-the-wall persona in the "Treasure Island" character provides much comic relief and adds a different dimension to the story.

As for the delightful score from musical director Corinne Aquilina -- the beautiful woodwind-laden music carries the production from beginning to end, showcasing the wide range of emotions portrayed by the entire cast. From those dark times experienced by Jim to those crucial moments in the production when sword and gun fights break out, it is all captured in the score. And you could count on every voice on stage to be as strong as the next -- there was no weak link in the chain.

Bottom line: This treasure of a play shows the real coming-of-age process with the lead, overcoming hardship after hardship and in the end, maturing to someone who is adult in character. The only difference is in "Treasure Island: A New Musical," is it's all done in the most magnificent of ways.

There's still time to see the show-- it will be running until March 31.

And don't miss Colonial Wine and Spirits' "Party Like a Pirate" special event from 6 - 7 p.m. Thurday, March 28, where patrons will be able to sample light bites, specialty rums and rum drinks in Foster’s prepared by local mixologist Joel DiPippa all before catching the "Treasure Island: A New Musical" at 7 p.m in special VIP seats in the First Mezzanine. Patrons be 21 or older to attend. Call the Box Office at (501) 378-0405 for these exclusive tickets!

Purchase tickets for the remaining shows online here, call (501) 378-0405 or visit the box office, 601 Main St., Little Rock.

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