“Treasure Island” is a new musical based on the classic Robert Louis Stevenson novel at Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick. Courtesy Kinectiv

Straw hat theater schedules are by and large dominated by shows that have been successful on Broadway. But every so often a new work is presented in pre-Broadway tryout.

That’s happening this month in Brunswick as Maine State Music Theatre presents “Treasure Island,” an adaptation of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson story. It debuted last weekend to great applause and acclaim.

Singer-songwriter Don Campbell, who divides his time between Portland and Nashville, will open the 2019 season at Deertrees Theatre on Saturday in Harrison. His program is titled “Great Songs, Great Stories and Their Origins.”

‘Treasure Island’

Buried gold, a mysterious map, fearsome pirates, mutiny on the high seas and a young man’s quest to grow up are the elements that define “Treasure Island,” the classic 1883 adventure novel by Robert Louis Stevenson. A huge bestseller in its day, Stevenson’s celebrated story has been adapted to other media more than 50 times in the past 130-plus years since publication.

Nearly 30 years ago, two young and aspiring thespians in Chicago set out to create a musical stage adaptation. Their efforts resulted in a successful version for children’s theater. That, in turn, caught the eye of a producer who urged them to rewrite it into a full-fledged Broadway-style musical.

“But then it got put on the shelf,” composer Marc Robin told me. “Life happens, you know.”

After nearly two decades on the shelf, Robin and partner Curt Dale Clark, who is currently the artistic director of Maine State Music Theatre, resumed work on the project and staged a preliminary version in Pennsylvania. After another decade of re-writes and revisions, Robin and Clark believe that it’s ready for Broadway, and its East Coast premiere is running in Brunswick.

There was a palpable air of excitement as the curtain lifted at the opening, and when the final bows were taken it was clear that Robin and Clark made a huge impression on the audience. We loved “Treasure Island.”

The plot revolves around a young man whose father has just been buried. Jim Hawkins yearns to grow up and follow his father’s footsteps to a seafaring career, and it begins in a most unexpected and mysterious fashion.

A dying man entrusts Hawkins with a map that shows where a long-dead buccaneer buried his loot on a far-distant tropical island.

Emboldened by two friends of his father, the three charter a ship, hire a captain and enlist a crew to take them to uninhabited Skeleton Island, where the gold is buried at a spot marked by an “X” on the map.

Robin and Clark co-wrote the book and lyrics, and Robin’s music is tuneful and dramatic. Director Mark Martino gets memorable performances from an all-male cast of nearly 40, led by Michael William Nigro as Hawkins, James Patterson and Michael Iannucci as the two friends of his father, David Girolmo as the captain and Aaron Ramey as a one-legged pirate who drives much of the action. I also especially liked Brian Krinsky as an over-the-top pirate and James Michael Reilly as a pitiful old castaway.

The elaborately detailed set, designed by Robert Andrew Kovach, also deserves kudos.

This premiere of “Treasure Island” should not be missed. It combines a terrific story, memorable characters and a big, soaring score.

What’s next for this show? When I chatted with Robin on opening night, he indicated that approximately 30 potential financial backers had already booked reservations for this run – and that’s the classic route to Broadway. He also said “Treasure Island” will be produced in California next summer.

I wished him and Clark many successes for the next stages. They’ve created a real theatrical treasure and the rest of the world ought to dig it.

Maine State Music Theatre presents “Treasure Island” through July 13 at Pickard Theater on the Bowdoin College campus in Brunswick. Call 725-8769 or visit MSMT.org.

Don Campbell

As the calendar flips to July, another key element of Maine’s summertime arts and entertainment scene gets rolling. Historic Deertrees Theatre, a landmark of the Lakes Region, opens this Saturday.

Heading up the summer’s lineup is Don Campbell, a singer-songwriter with a distinctly country bent I’ve been following and admiring for more than a quarter century. A multi-talented performer who splits his time between Maine and Nashville, Campbell has crafted several shows, and in recent years has become something of a pop music historian. His Dan Fogelberg tribute show is truly outstanding.

For this Saturday’s Deertrees opener, Campbell will present a new show titled “Great Songs, Great Stories and Their Origins,” which will combine history and performance.

Deertrees Theatre, 156 Deertrees Road in Harrison, presents Don Campbell at 7:30 p.m. July 6. Call 583-6747 or visit Deertrees-Theatre.org.

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