Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham

Pippin
Raleigh Little Theatre
Review by Garrett Southerland


The Cast
Photo by Areon Mobasher
Avid theatre fans are familiar with the classic musical from the 1970s that made Stephen Schwartz a household name long before Wicked won over a new generation. That would be Pippin, currently on stage at Raleigh Little Theatre's Cantey V. Sutton Theatre through June 16. Others may have caught references to the show in the recent FX series about the musical's original director and choreographer, Bob Fosse. And though Raleigh Little Theatre's current production bears a number of residual markings of Fosse's signature style, it has its own "magic to do," too.

Pippin is loosely based on the historical character of Pepin, whose father Charlemagne built the Carolingian Empire in the Early Middle Ages. The story is told by a travelling minstrel group helmed by the Leading Player (portrayed wonderfully here by Deanna Richards). Pippin (an engaging Jesse Farmer) has one goal in life: to find true fulfillment and meaningfulness. He hopefully embraces every temptation thrown at him by the players. His father (Douglas Kapp) introduces him to the adrenaline rush of war. His grandmother Berthe (a delightful Rebecca Johnston) advises him to seek a carefree life of frivolity. With his step-mother Fastrada (Amy White), Pippin considers the pleasures of charity—or is that tyrannical power? And, from estate owner Catherine (the beautiful soprano Molly Hamelin) and her son Theo (Nic Sanchez at the performance I attended), Pippin samples a simpler life of commitment and labor. Will any of these pursuits bring him closer to fulfillment? The Leading Player and her troupe hope they won't for fear of ruining their grand finale.

The score, both music and lyrics, are Stephen Schwartz at his best. With classics like "Corner of the Sky," there is not a single song that doesn't hit the mark. The book by Roger O. Hirson, who just passed away last week, is witty, funny and dark all at the same time. And though the show ends on a rather somber note, it is both realistic and satisfying.

Under the direction of Patrick Torres, this production is fresh and inventive. The choreography by Chasta Hamilton pays homage to Fosse's immediately recognizable movement, but she has plenty of new ideas too—pay special attention to the clever use of chairs in "War Is a Science" and "Glory." Katherine Anderson's musical direction sounds lush and clear, giving the audience a lovely taste of this memorable score.

Pippin is the everyman who may not be the handsomest, wittiest, or even the most coordinated. His encounters with a harsh and cynical world feel remarkably modern. If there is one thing to take from this engaging piece of theatre, it is that we are not alone in our quest to find meaning, and sometimes the simplest of things may bring the greatest reward.

Pippin, through June 16, 2019, at Raleigh Little Theatre, Cantey V. Sutton Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh NC. Tickets can be purchased online at www.raleighlittletheatre.org or by phone at 919-821-3111.

Music and Lyrics: Stephen Schwartz Book: Roger O. Hirson
Director: Patrick Torres
Musical Direction: Katherine Anderson
Choreography: Chasta Hamilton
Scenic Design: Elizabeth Newton
Costume Design: Jenny Mitchell
Lighting Design: Cailen Waddell
Sound Design: Todd Houseknecht

Cast:
Leading Player: Deanna Richards
Pippin: Jesse Farmer
Charles: Douglas Kapp
Lewis: JaJuan Cofield
Fastrada: Amy White
Berthe: Rebecca Johnston
Catherine: Molly Hamelin
Theo: Nic Sanchez, Lawson Walker
Ensemble: Bryan Bunch, Rylee Davis, Riki Dows, Nathan Hamilton, Carlie Huberman, Tyrone Kiaku, Reanna Kicinski, Robert Parrish, Sarah Preston, Bryan Pridgen, Brett Yates


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