Every once in a while, a bottle will wash up on the beaches of Tybee Island. Inside is an old parchment treasure map, with a note: I, Lefty the Pirate, having lost me right arm fighting off the British, have decided I'm too old and tired to take care of me treasure meself. I've buried it on Lefty's Island.
Lefty, his notes and his bottles, are figments of Eddie Wilson's imagination. Everything figures prominently in The Treasure of Lefty the Pirate - Legend of the Tybee Bomb, Wilson's musical play debuting this weekend in a special production of the Tybee Arts Performing Society.
The Tybee Island Pirate Fest - an eagerly anticipated annual event - is still a week away, but all ye hearties can get your fix of buccaneering bravado with Lefty, at the Tybee Island Gym.
Wilson, a pianist, singer and composer who spent a few years crafting musical revues for the Savannah Theatre, first wrote a song about Lefty in 1996, when he was entertaining steadily up Hilton Head way.
"I like to say that he's somewhere between the pirates of old and Santa Claus," Wilson explains. "He's this mythical figure who's out there somewhere, and Lord knows he's got to be somewhere on the island. Maybe he is on the island right now! But nobody's seen him and nobody knows him. We'd all like to meet him, but he's not letting himself be met."
With a large cast of locals, and Wilson's script and songs, The Treasure of Lefty the Pirate sends average couple Roger and Kelly, among others, to an island "someplace around Tybee." There may well be treasure there - Lefty was apparently kind of a kook - but there most certainly is a bomb, a hydrogen bad boy jettisoned into the water, undetonated, during the Cold War.
So one man's treasure could well be another man's mushroom cloud. Talk about adventure! (This part, at least, is actually based on a true story from 1958; the 7,600-pound bomb is presumably still out there, submerged and buried under many feet of silt near Wassaw Sound).
"It's funny, and it really moves," Wilson says of his show. "We've had a great time doing it."
Cleveland-born Wilson spent several years in Branson, Mo., orchestrating for and performing with Tony Orlando, among others (they toured together as well). He's also done musical work for Bobby Vinton and Jim Stafford, and wrote for Pope John Paul II's 25th Jubilee in Canada, the soap opera Guiding Light, and the Georgian G8 Summit.
Wile on the road with Orlando, Wilson kept a mental list of areas where he might like to eventually settle.
"I always fell in love with places that had heavy history in the mid 1800s, for some reason," he says. "I have a great affinity for that period of time. I loved old Sacramento, I loved San Antonio, and I loved Savannah especially."
He and his wife, Christy, put down roots in town six years ago. They have a world-class recording studio, www.onstagemusic.com, and Wilson continues to write, demo and record as the jobs come in.
He plays piano and sings at several local restaurants, and has a smooth jazz trio (Midnight Sun) and a jazz quartet (Hear and Now). So Lefty the Pirate, even though it's taken up the better part of the last 12 months, is only one item on his busy resume.
"In any smaller market, you have to do more things than you would normally do, to pay the rent," Wilson says. "I don't know that I would be a cocktail piano player, or a jazzer, in a larger market. I would probably be a studio mole and an orchestrator, that people would be constantly calling for production assistance and for orchestrations.
"And I would be miserable, man. I grew up an entertainer. I'm having a great time in Savannah. And this town loves its piano players."
‘The Treasure of Lefty the Pirate - Legend of the Tybee Bomb'
Where: Tybee Gym, Butler Avenue and 5th Street, Tybee Island
When: At 7:30 p.m. Oct. 2-4, and 3 p.m. Oct. 4
Tickets: $20, at Atlantic Beacon Gallery, Tybee Market IGA, and the Gallery by the Sea
Tickets online: www.tybeeposttheater.org
The production is a benefit for Friends of the Tybee Post Theater