Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
The directors have staged the production very handsomely, with colorful and skillful contributions from the show's design team. The score sounds great played by the offstage band led by the masterful music director Kenneth Gartman. What ultimately makes the show succeed, though, is an airy, overriding vision by everyone involved that manages to help the musical glide past some of its weaker points (such as some less than amusing book scenes) and accentuate what works best, namely sprightly dances and a festive feeling from beginning to end.
The strongest aspect of this production is the fine cast that has been assembled. In the part of the Leading Player, a role that both Ben Vereen and Patina Miller won Tony Awards for, Melissa Victor is a real live-wire, with an energizing quality that lights up the stage. She sings and dances very well, in addition to bringing a great deal of authority to the part. Indeed, when Victor is onstage, she commands attention. Zach Schanne shines as Pippin, with a soaring voice (which sounds especially great in his opening song "Corner of the Sky") and a rugged yet playful presence that fills out this star role perfectly.
All of the main players in this troupe are quite wonderful. As Pippin's father King Charlemagne, Frank Mastrone seems like he really could lead a kingdom, and he makes the most of his character's big number, "War Is a Science." As his scheming yet seductive wife, Pippin's stepmother, Fastrada, Jodi Stevens is terrific and looks sensational in all of Orli Nativ's glorious costumes. Stevens also has a great deal of fun with her song "Spread a Little Sunshine," putting the number over with style.
There is a real showstopper in this cast: Janelle Robinson as Pippin's grandmother Berthe. This has always been a showy role and Robinson certainly makes the most of her catchy song, "No Time at All" (including a sing-along with the audience). She milks everything out of the number, including some very funny comedy, as she frolics with the men in the company. The ensemble members, for their part, are uniformly strong and they perform Doug Shankman's inventive choreography splendidly.
Arriving late in the show is the endearing Ella Raymont, Pippin's love interest Catherine. Raymont sings both "Kind of a Woman" and "I Guess I'll Miss the Man" sweetly and she also sounds great in her duet with Schanne, "Love Song."
The musical does sag more than a bit by the end of the second act, and it is really the sparkling cast and Stephen Schwartz's bouncy songs which help Pippin stay aloft.
Staged in the round, Brad Caleb Lee's delightful set is an asset, and the lighting design by Colleen Doherty is extraordinary. So, even without Fosse's influence and bag of tricks, Pippin is a highly enjoyable show with a dynamic company of actors who put on a performance full of mischief and merriment. Summer Theatre of New Canaan's production of Pippin overflows with good cheer and proves to the perfect antidote for a steamy summer night.
Pippin, through July 28, 2019, at Summer Theatre of New Canaan, 56 South Ave., New Canaan CT. For tickets, visit www.stonc.org or call the box office at 203-966-4634.