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Springfield Contemporary Theatre brings 'Treasure Island' to Fox Theatre stage

Courtesy Springfield Contemporary Theatre
Azzie Smith portrays young Jim Hawkins in a Springfield Contemporary Theatre production of "Treasure Island" that premieres Friday, Dec. 1, 2023.

Ken Ludwig's faithful stage adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic features pirates, lots of fight scenes — and in Jeffrey Mindock's production, even a music score!

Springfield Contemporary Theatre will take audiences on the journey of a lifetime with Ken Ludwig's stage adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island," opening Friday, December 1 and running through December 17 at the Historic Fox Theatre, 157 Park Central Square. We were joined on KSMU's "Arts News" by the production's director, Jeffrey Mindock, and by Azzie Smith, the 18-year-old actor portraying 14-year-old Jim Hawkins.

Playwright Ken Ludwig is well-known to theatre enthusiasts for shows such as "Lend Me a Tenor," Mindock said.

"But he's really started dabbling in works of classic literature, with 'The Three Musketeers,' some of the Sherlock Holmes (stories), and 'Treasure Island.' "

In one of his first professional acting jobs, Mindock played Long John Silver in a production of Ludwig's "Treasure Island," so he says he's "very, very familiar" with the play. This SCT production is his first time directing it.

He said it may be the least Ken Ludwig-like of Ludwig's plays: "The best way to describe this play is that it's just an augmentation of what's on the Stevenson page. This is definitely a dramedy, and this is what we were trying to pursue."

When SCT Artistic Director Rick Dines asked Jeffrey Mindock to direct "Treasure Island," he immediately agreed — "but I wanted to make sure we're gonna do it right, authentically. So we've got lots of fight sequences, with real swords. And we have lots of gunfights — and lots of appropriately-choreographed death in this play... because they're pirates! It's not fuzzy, warm and lovey-dovey."

In fact, in SCT's marketing for this production, they have tried to emulate the style of the "Pirates of Caribbean" movies.

And that carries over to what audiences will see onstage at the Fox Theatre, said Mindock, "through the costumes, the performances, and the scenic design. I think that the scenic design alone is worth the price of admission."

"Treasure Island" is the story of a 14-year-old boy, Jim Hawkins, who embarks on a dangerous sea voyage in search of buried treasure on an island. Along the way he encounters cutthroat pirates... including Long John Silver himself.

According to actor Azzie Smith, who plays Jim, "a huge thing for him throughout the play is manhood. At the beginning of the play, his mom says that he has become a man now. But it's really through (the course of) the play that he really grows into that manhood. He goes through a lot of different, really hard trials."

Jeffrey Mindock mentioned that "Treasure Island" had an eight-week rehearsal period, "which is a lot of time for a play. But ours is a play with music. We've put a full soundtrack behind it for a lot of the transitions and the fight sequences."

Mindock engaged Central High School head of theatre Gretchen Teague to choreograph the fight sequences (her official title is "movement director"). "So it's not just 'lights up, lights down, here's the story.' "

Mindock added, "It's such a story of human connection. When you say the word 'pirate,' something immediately pops into your head, whether it be Johnny Depp, or somebody with a parrot on their shoulder. But we wanted to find a way to make it authentic and unique to our world. It's everything that classic literature should be, and wants to be. And it's just so much fun!"

How did Mindock choose Smith to be the play's Jim Hawkins?

"Casting... what an overwhelming process!" Mindock said. "You have visions of who you want — how they look and how they talk, how they breathe, and how they connect with other actors. When you're looking for someone who looks 14 but obviously is much more mature than 14 from an acting perspective, as a director you hope that someone like Azzie walks in the room. And then he did, and then it was, 'Oh! Perfect!' Jim Hawkins is cast."

Mindock had an extensive sports career before his theater career. "I've been told, as a director, that I can sometimes put on the 'coach' hat. So Azzie and I have had lots of conversations about manhood." And Mindock promised Smith that he wouldn't let him fail.

"Two nights ago we had a rehearsal where it was the first night that we had lights and sound and costume and everything... and it was not Azzie's best. So we had a heart-to-heart, a one-on-one, and I said it's going to work out in the end. And last night's performance (the final dress rehearsal, before an invited audience) was breathtaking! How I was raised in the theatre and how I work in the theatre, every single play is a 'rehearsal' — until an audience arrives. And we do it all for the audience."

"Treasure Island" will run Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m., through December 17. Tickets for opening night (December 1) are $27. Otherwise they range from $15 to $32, with $10 student rush. And there will be post-show discussions with the cast and creative team following the Sunday, December 3 and Thursday, December 7 performances. Also, Thursdays are always "Pay What You Can" nights at SCT.

For more information, call 417-831-8001 or visit springfieldcontemporarytheatre.org.

Randy Stewart joined the full-time KSMU staff in June 1978 after working part-time as a student announcer/producer for two years. His job has evolved from Music Director in the early days to encompassing production of a wide range of arts-related programming and features for KSMU, including the online and Friday morning Arts News. Stewart assists volunteer producers John Darkhorse (Route 66 Blues Express), Lee Worman (The Gold Ring), and Emily Higgins (The Mulberry Tree) with the production of their programs. He's also become the de facto "Voice of KSMU" in recent years due to the many hours per day he’s heard doing local station breaks. Stewart’s record of service on behalf of the Springfield arts community earned him the Springfield Regional Arts Council's Ozzie Award in 2006.