Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Two performing editions of Pippin, music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, book by Roger O. Hirson, exist: the original 1972 version, which was directed and choreographed by the legendary Bob Fosse with a commedia dell'arte sensibility, and a re-imagining in a circus milieu by Diane Paulus for American Repertory Theater which transferred to Broadway in 2013. There are major and minor lyric changes in the Paulus version, notably to "War is a Science" and "Extraordinary," as well as book edits which help to make the title character less whiny, which is a good thing. For me, the glory of this musical has always been the brilliant score with its piano-centric orchestrations, which are re-thought in the later version, sometimes reducing the spine-tingling excitement that several numbers are able to reach, but contributing to making the narrative less cloying at its worst. This production uses the circus setting but liberally mixes in some Fosse along the way and the revised text. There are also two starkly different endings. Avoiding spoilers, the extended ending, which I find very much more effective, is in place here.
Rick Kerby's strength as a director has always been in getting excellent dance performances from his casts and Pippin is possibly one of his greatest successes. The excellent ensemble are stars in their own right.
Alexander Zickafoose continues his domination of juvenile leads (Quasimodo in Disney's the Hunchback of Notre Dame and Peter in Peter and the Starcatcher among others) at this theater as Pippin. I am guessing that offstage he may have aged out of these roles but plays young on stage for a winning portrayal. His singing is his strong suit, up to a really nice high A to cap "Corner of the Sky." Opposite him as the Leading Player is Taye Marquise who commands the entire production with slinky dance moves and very strong singing in a role that secured leading actor and leading actress Tony Awards for both Broadway productions.
Supporting roles are all strongly cast. Cory Woomert's Charlemagne is a forceful presence at his court and makes "War Is a Science" a show stopper. Christina Capehart as Fastrada, his second wife, brings sexual allure to her dancing. No wonder Charlemagne is being "led around by his ..." Bryan Stark as Fastrada's son Lewis shows off his luscious body without shame. Berthe, Pippin's grandmother, is in the hands of the always reliable Ellen Kleinschmidt and gets the audience singing along with several choruses of her show stopping "No Time at All." In the second act, Catherine, Pippin's love interest, is shrilly played by Sarah Cassidy, a nice twist on the usual portrayal as a stolid earth mother. Catherine's son Theo, complete with duck, is played by the adorable Liam Mueller.
Music direction is credited to William Coleman, but singing is to pre-recorded tracks. The singing on opening night was excellent, avoiding almost all the pitfalls often found with tracks.
Donna Buckalter's scenic design is strongest in its circus atmosphere, less winning when reverting back to a more Fosse vision as in the Bertha and Catherine sequences. Timothy Belty's costume designs are a riot of color and glitter. Patrick Bedell has beautifully lit this show for all the shifting emotionalism.
We have been deprived of big musical productions for too long, so it's a joy to let Rick Kerby's Pippin show us that there is "Magic to Do."
Pippin runs through August 22, 2021, at Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 3rd Ave W., Bradenton FL. For tickets and information, please call 941-748-0111 or visit www.manateeperformingartscenter.com.