Andréa Burns and Seán Martin Hingston in a publicity photo for The Pirate
Andréa Burns and Seán Martin Hingston
in a publicity photo for The Pirate
Theatrical soufflés, like their culinary equivalents, need the right chef and the perfect ingredients to literally rise to the occasion. The Prince Music Theater's world premiere musical The Pirate, based on the 1948 MGM film starring Gene Kelly and Judy Garland, aspires to be this sensational dessert but, instead, has come out of the oven as angel food cake. It's kind of tasty but not very interesting.

While the film is considered one of MGM's lesser efforts of the period, the plot -- adapated from S.N. Behrman's 1924 play of the same title -- does provide a good basis for a lighter-than-air musical. Manuela (Andréa Burns), a sheltered young woman living in the Caribbean, dreams of romance and adventure with the dreaded pirate Macoco; but her fantasy is rudely interrupted when her Aunt Ines (Pamela Myers) promises Manuela to the town's oily mayor Don Pedro (Tom Flynn) in exchange for financial security.

Heartsick, Manuela runs away with her servant Lizarda (Aileen Goldberg) to another part of the island. There they encounter a troupe of starving actors headed by the vain yet charming Seraphin (Seán Martin Hingston), who falls madly in love with Manuela. Once he discovers -- through hypnosis -- what she really wants in a man, he decides to masquerade as Macoco. It's a wrongheaded ruse, since Macoco will be sentenced to death upon capture, and one that becomes even more problematic once Seraphin discovers that Don Pedro is the real Macoco.

As lovers of the film know, The Pirate boasted a Cole Porter score, albeit a very brief one; the best known songs from the movie are "Be a Clown" (which, frankly, is more famous as the model for "Make 'Em Laugh" in Singin' in the Rain) and "Mack the Black". Working with the Cole Porter Trust, the Prince show's conceiver, Zack Manna, has interpolated a number of Porter standards into the show, including "All of You" and "I Concentrate of You." For the most part, they fit quite snugly. Manna has also restored "Voodoo," a silly number that was cut from the film because it was once deemed too provocative.

The Pirate falls rather flat, partly because there are way too many chefs in this kitchen. Manna, a former theater marketing executive, has also written the book with David Levy, adding a completely superflous narrator called Mango Woman (played by the formidable Cheryl Freeman, sadly wasted here) and throwing in a bunch of anachronisms that get laughs despite their awkwardness. He has also written a trio of songs, with Levy and composer Brad Ross, that sound vaguely Porteresque but serve little purpose. Director Richard M. Parrison, Jr. -- who triumphed earlier this season at the Prince with Dreamgirls -- and choreographer Chase Brock do capable work, but this piece really calls for a director-choreographer like Kathleen Marshall or Casey Nicholaw to fulfill its potential. Ray Klausen's sets and Mark Mariani's costumes are fine, though it would have been nice iif they were a little more lavish.

Nor is the show as well cast as it should be. Burns is a wonderful actress with a creamy soprano -- her rendition of "Wake Up and Dream" is luxurious -- but she's a bit too mature for the virginal Manuela, and a performer with a bit more sizzle is needed to really put over "Mack the Black" (performed here in Kay Thompson's fabulous vocal arrangement). The secondary pairing of Lizarda with Seraphin's fellow troupe member Trillo (the appealing James T. Lane, soon to be seen as Richie in A Chorus Line) is a solid musical comedy idea but it's sunk by Goldberg's charmless performance.

On the plus side, Myers -- still clarion-voiced 35 years after she first belted out "Another Hundred People" in Company -- is a hoot as Inez and does a nifty job with "Most Gentleman Don't Like Love." Flynn is in fine voice and fine fettle as Don Pedro, while playwright Albert Innaurato offers a most amusing cameo as the Viceroy, who engineers the show's happy ending even if he doesn't get his own happy ending with Seraphin. But the show's true revelation is Hingston. A highly athletic dancer who has proved his terpisocherean prowess in such shows as Contact, he truly comes into his own here as a fine comedian and singer. Like a good pirate, he steals everything in sight and gets away with it.