Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
Also see John's review of Living Proof
The Lake Worth Playhouse celebrates its 54th season as a Resident Community Playhouse with their production of Pippin. With music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Roger O. Hirson, Pippin is based on the story of the son of Charlemagne. Pippin opened on Broadway in October of 1972 at the Imperial Theatre, running for 1,944 performances. The original cast featured Irene Ryan, Jill Clayburgh, Ann Reinking, John Rubenstein and Ben Vereen. In 1973 Pippin was nominated for a total of eleven Tony Awards, winning five.
Composer Stephen Schwartz, is currently identified with his most recent Broadway success, Wicked. He also wrote the music and lyrics for Godspell, The Baker's Wife, Working, The Magic Show and Children Of Eden. He collaborated with composer Alan Menken on the score for the Disney animated feature Pocahontas, for which he received two Academy Awards and a Grammy. He also provided songs for DreamWorks' first animated feature, The Prince of Egypt and won another Academy Award, for the song "When You Believe." The prolific Roger O. Hirson made his mark writing mostly for episodic TV in a career spanning over 40 years.
Pippin is the story of a band of theatrical players reenacting the fictionalized tale of young Prince Pippin, son of King Charlemagne. With all the privileges of wealth, education and position at his disposal, Pippin desperately searches for the key to happiness and purpose. He seeks it in war, sex, art and religion. He even attempts to take the throne from his father in hopes of finding inner peace in reform. In his distraught wanderings he stumbles upon a young widow named Catherine and her son Theo. In the end he finds the answer to his search in the simple things of life - family, love and home. These are the very things he first thought himself so much above finding fulfilling. But in Pippin's humbled words: "It never was there. I think It was here."
The character of the Leading Player is a devilishly seductive voice that glorifies Pippin's doubt and discontent, and cackles at the mayhem he helps create along the way. The rest of the cast are really pawns in the acting out of the story, with the Leading Player sometimes directing the action from within the tale. The use of a troupe of players to tell the tale provides a blank canvas for the set and costume design. It can be any time period and any settings. The story, of course, is a timeless one, the tale of youthful self-discovery.
The set design for this production by Kathryn Davis places us in a back alley. One could rightfully ask for prettier surroundings in which to join this magical theatrical journey. It is more fitting of Godspell than Pippin. Costume design by Carlos Toro is slightly disappointing. Pippin's father, Charles, wears a business suit which places him in a time period after 1920, while the majority of the cast is dressed in assorted dance attire, and Theo wears athletic shoes and shorts post-1990. Feathered fans in Catherine's "Ordinary Woman" do much to enhance the number. More use of the fanciful would have framed the show more effectively. Though, at the performance I attended, the theatre was experiencing microphone problems with their sound system that were troublesome to the audience, the actors on stage carried on unperturbed. Bob Fosse's choreography in the original production will forever be linked to Pippin; the choreography for this production by Marc Carmen manages to represent the style rather than duplicate it, without being disappointing.
Shane Blanford is refreshingly earnest and without guile as Pippin. His slightly pop lyric voice lends itself well to the part. His mild cracks on some high notes are forgivable as his delivery is so sincere. Director Marc Carmen finds just the right chemistry between Blanford as Pippin and Martine Perry as Catherine. Perry lends a warmth and gentle humor to Catherine that makes the role what it should be. Joshua Holihan is a tad heavy-handed as the Leading Player. He opts for more anger in his line deliveries than one might desire, making his character less alluring and enticing. Though he tends to make vocal entrances aggressively driving upward into the pitch, he sings the demanding part of the Leading Player quite well. Though he part is usually cast with a strong dancer, Holihan was really only able to demonstrate any dance ability in the enjoyably choreographed "On The Right Track." More of the same staging of his other numbers could have made this the plum role of the Playhouse's season.
Missy McArdle is adorable as Berthe, Pippin's grandmother. She clearly commands the stage when she appears. Cheers to Jodie Dixon-Mears who stepped into the show mid-run as Fastrada. If it were not for the exclusion of Fastrada's song, "Spread A Little Sunshine," one would never have known all was not exactly as planned. Hal Johnstone as Charlemagne is both distinguished and dotty, and Stephen Eisenwasser is mischievous as Theo. The ensemble as a whole has some unevenness, but the end product of their combined efforts is a production that is every bit as good as one would see in local professional theatres.
Pippin appeared at the Lake Worth Playhouse from October 6, 2006 - October 22, 2006 on their main stage. The theatre is located at 713 Lake Ave. in Lake Worth. In addition to it's season of main stage shows, the company also operates the Stonzek Studio Theatre, their intimate black box theatre next door. The Lake Worth Playhouse Educational Program offers professional touring theatre for young audiences, and classes, workshops and camps for children 5 and up. For more information on the Lake Worth Playhouse you may contact then by phone at 561-589-6410 or on line at www.lakeworthplayhouse.org.