BWW Review: Gary Laird - PIPPIN Has Magic To Do at Miller Outdoor Theatre
It's a show business aphorism that the meaning of the musical PIPPIN, first produced on Broadway in 1972, is anybody's guess. I can go along with that.
To begin with, it's the 9th century, more or less, in the royal court of Charlemagne, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, a time and locale not necessarily known for merriment and song.
But that's what we get, from the opening curtain, with a group of rag-tag troupers led by the Leading Player cum Mistress of Ceremonies (Holland Vavra) performing a morality play of sorts. Under the Leading Player's iron hand, they go through their paces in telling the story of Pippin (Thomas Williams), son of Charles( Brian Mathis), who returns from college full of the idealism of youth and a fervent desire to do something extraordinary with his life. But like most youths, he's not exactly sure what. Things don't get much clearer when his father tells him that he expects his son to follow in his very large footsteps. In other words, Pippin is expected to enter the family's king business. Pippin demurs.
Enter step-mother Fastrada (Lauren Pastorek) and her son, Lewis (Rob Flebbe). Fastrada is the usual conniving stepmother who wants the crown for her son, and Lewis is a narcissistic, opportunistic braggart who preens and poses in an attempt to get his father's attention and approval. He is also somewhat light in the loafers, and not too bright, to boot. Charles' description of his second son is somewhat more succinct. He's "an asshole".
Pippin's grandmother, Berthe (Chesley Ann Santoro) is on hand to give him comfort, wisdom, and a little shove when he needs it.
The widow Catherine (Betty Marie Muessig), and her son Theo (Julian Lammey) try their best to give him a peaceful home life, but he shuns that as unworthy. He wants extraordinary or nothing.
He very nearly gets both. There are several morals. Take your pick:
"There's no place like home."
"Be careful what you wish for."
"A penny saved is a penny earned." (Just kidding.)
The show is handsomely mounted. Costumes and sets are elaborate and serve the action well. The outdoor setting is appropriate, and for all you snowflakes who are recoiling in horror at the thought of Houston's outdoors in July can get over it. If I can do it, you can do it. Believe me. The seating area has huge ceiling-mounted fans that are quite effective, and I'll let you in on a little secret: The closer you are to the stage, the cooler it is. The stage AC spills over. But you didn't hear it from me.
The songs, by Stephen Schwartz, are simple and catchy, and there is even a sing-along to Berthe's number, "No Time At All", a carpe diem anthem with a bouncy beat.
The voices of the cast are strong and clear. Holland Vavra belts it with the best.
Thomas Williams is stalwart as Pippin, but I would have liked just a little more.
Betty Marie Muessig is funny, nagging, and wistful by turns, and her "unscheduled" number, "Kind of Woman" wins the audience. Nine-year-old Julian Lammey as Theo is one of those musical comedy kids that you marvel at. He's been doing it since he was 4.
Rob Flebbe as the petulant Lewis mugs delightfully, and schemes his way through the plot, doubling, masked, as a member of the dance ensemble. His fluidity of movement is a pleasure to watch. I just wish we could have heard his lovely singing voice more.
The ensemble is first-rate throughout, as was the orchestra in the pit. The choreography, with a nod to Bob Fosse, was sharp and snappy.
Then came the much-vaunted FINALE, the lights came up, and a happy audience melted away into the summer night.
Through Jul 16, 2017
6000 Hermann Park Drive
This is a ticketed event for the covered seating area. Free tickets are available (4 per person over age 16 while they last) at the Miller Outdoor Theatre box office the day of the performance between the hours of 10:30 AM-1:00 PM. If tickets remain at 1:00 PM, the box office will re-open one hour before show time to distribute the remaining tickets. As always, open seating on the hill. The shows goes on rain or shine.