Sundae Horn
Edward Teach, a.k.a. Blackbeard (Matt Tolson), has a few words with young Richard Evans (Waylon Underwood).
Edward Teach, a.k.a. Blackbeard (Matt Tolson), has a few words with young Richard Evans (Waylon Underwood).

Tickets are selling fast for the revival of the musical “A Tale of Blackbeard.”

Get yours online at or buy them at the door at the Community Center. Opening night is Thursday, May 15th at 7:30pm, and doors open at 7:00pm. The show will also run Friday and Saturday night at 7:30pm, and Sunday at 2pm. 

“A Tale of Blackbeard” is 40 years old this year, and has never looked better! Written and composed in 1974 by Julie Howard, the play was produced nine times between ’74 and ’94. Then it took a 20-year hiatus, until Ocracoke Alive brought it back with co-directors Charles Temple and Desiree Ricker.

“I’m really pleased with how it’s going,” Julie said at a recent rehearsal. “There’s so much energy in the cast. I was worried that enthusiasm would flag over all the months of rehearsal, but it hasn’t. I’m thrilled.”  

With a new set, new costumes, and new energy from a cast that is mostly new to the play, “A Tale of Blackbeard” will be ready for a new audience – but also hopes to please those who have nostalgic memories of past productions.

The title character is portrayed by Matt Tolson, who says he’s “ecstatic” and “pumped” to play the infamous pirate. 

Matt can remember seeing the play when he was a kid, and he helped with the sound cues in the ’91 run. Matt enjoys theater for the same reason he loves Halloween: “I love getting into costumes. It’s fun being a different person.”

As Blackbeard, Matt strides intimidatingly across the deck of his ship, and shouts orders at his crew. He’s cocky and arrogant, quick to lose his temper, and more than a little scary. But he also shows his softer side. Julie says that when she wrote the play she decided to portray Blackbeard as a character with some depth, not just mean and ruthless as the legends would have you believe. Recent research supports her theory; apparently, pirates like Blackbeard ruled by fear and didn’t actually have to be as cruel as their reputations.

This Blackbeard has some regrets, and expresses them in song. Singing solos was new to Matt.

“I never intended to have this role,” he said. “I was scared to death when I was cast, but that wore off. Julie Howard being excited helped me be excited. If the woman who wrote the play is happy, I’m happy." 

Singing, dancing, fighting – “A Tale of Blackbeard” has it all. And it will look good, too, with all-new costumes.

“After forty years, most of the costumes were gone or needed to be replaced,” said Heather Johnson, who loved "Blackbeard' as a kid (she was an usher in ’91 and ’94) and loves playing dress-up. “Since it hadn’t been done in so long, I figured it was time for a fresh new look.”

All the costumes were made by hand on Ocracoke.

“We wanted to stay very traditional,” said Heather. “And true to what the play always was on Ocracoke.”  The main seamstress was Linda Ward, with help from Heather, Lori Masaitis, Katie Strong, Mary Bassell and Jim Fineman. Linda and Heather created the patterns as well, from sketches Heather designed after researching early 18th century fashion styles and fabrics.

Charles introduces the pirates at a special preview performance at the OPS Museum where the pirates and village girls sang two songs from the play.
Charles introduces the pirates at a special preview performance at the OPS Museum where the pirates and village girls sang two songs from the play.

“A Tale of Blackbeard” was inspired by Ocracoke theater legend Danny Garrish. In 1973, at a cast party for the little melodrama “No, No, A Million Times, No,” Danny mentioned to Julie that there ought to be a play about Blackbeard. And since O’cockers were so musically-inclined, Julie figured it should be a musical and maybe she could write it. So over the winter she did. A small group met at Danny and Margaret Garrish’s house in March of ’74 to plan the first production (staged at the old school rec hall – now the Topless Oyster restaurant) little knowing they were starting a tradition that would be around 40 years later.

Julie says that she used her imagination to create the inhabitants of Ocracoke village, which was actually a small pilot town in 1718. She wondered what it would have been like for Blackbeard’s crew to come ashore and interact with the people living here. And, being a musical, there’s got to be a little romance. Julie created Euphemia’s boardinghouse, full of Village Girls (“here to please” the weary traveler) and Oliver Farthingham, the “watchman” of Ocracoke and his upper-class wife and daughters, so there would be some creatures of the fairer sex for the pirates to woo.

(There was a real Euphemia with a boardinghouse on Ocracoke; she’s buried near Howard Street. But – she was around in the late 1800’s and, alas, there’s no evidence that her house was staffed with girls to “make you laugh, entertain, or tease.”)

Although only one member of the cast has ever been in the “Blackbeard” before (Joanie O’Neal, reprising her role as a Village Girl), many can remember seeing it as a kid, or they share a family legacy. Katy Mitchell will play Marjorie O’Neal, the hilarious boardinghouse cook, a role her grandmother and mother have both played. Indeed, Katy owes her very existence to “A Tale of Blackbeard – her parents met playing the romantic leads, Elizabeth and Richard. Maren Donlon will play Elizabeth’s little sister, just like mother, Lena Austin, did in ‘87. Joanie’s daughter, Aurora, will play the maid; Joanie did that, too, before graduating to village girl. Samantha Styron will play Elizabeth – her dad, David Styron, was a pirate in the ’74 debut.

"A big part of the fun is how excited the village is about the play coming back," said director Charles Temple. 

"A Tale of Blackbeard" is new discovery for him – he missed it by one year when he moved to the island in 1995.

"I'd heard about it and had people tell me I should do it, but I wouldn't have tried it by myself," he said. "It's been possible because of the outstanding partnership between me, Desiree doing the choreography, [Ocracoke Alive president] David Tweedie producing it and taking care of all the money, and Karen Lovejoy as stage manager." 

Working with all these talented people was just "too tempting" he said, and the play is "really good and fun, and the music is great."

Opening night will be a new experience for everyone – not just the audience. Because of the craziness of Ocracoke school, sports, and work schedules, it will be the first time the entire cast has been together for a run-through.

"I can't wait to see all the performances," Charles said. 

"A Tale of Blackbeard" will begin its summer run on June 9th, and play every Monday at 8pm until August 11th.