BWW Review: Jenny Taylor Moodie - PIPPIN Treads Shallow Waters With Excellent Staging And Choreography
PIPPIN is a Tony-award winning musical about a prince who's yearning to find meaning and substance in his life, which is ironic, because the story has very little meaning or substance.
With a book by Roger O. Hinson, the plot lacks urgency and progression. By intermission I was still searching for a reason for the show and it just doesn't happen within the book. Luckily, there are some catchy tunes in the libretto, thanks to Stephen Schwartz' music and lyrics. If you're going to see this production of PIPPIN, go for Michelle Gaudette's inspired choreography and Holland Vavra's unflagging singing voice. If you want more than great musical numbers and excellent dancing Pippin will probably not do it for you.
The curtain opens to reveal a backstage view of a carnival of sorts. Ryan McGettigan's set is magical, gritty, and mysterious, with rambling staircases and deconstructed brick walls. It's a perfect rendering of a crumbling circus, and serves every scene with its adaptable corners and platforms.
The cast is generally pleasing, with Leading Player Holland Vavra knocking it out of the park with her outstanding vocal chops. Brian Mathis gives a committed and enjoyable performance as King Charles, Pippin's father. Betty Marie Muessig is adorable as Catherine, Pippin's love interest. Muessig's rich mezzo is a treat to listen to, particularly in "Love Song". Thomas Williams does a good job portraying the earnest title role, but he seemed to be struggling vocally on the night I attended. It could be Houston's famous allergies afoot. Truly, in some ways the dancers are the star of this production of PIPPIN. Director and choreographer Michelle Gaudette takes a flimsy storyline and gives us something to cheer about: dance. Gaudette's choreography is some of the best I've seen in years and her cast of dancers are equally excellent and entertaining.
Musically, the show is fairly strong, with the plaintive "Corner of The Sky" in which Pippin longs to find his place in life. Other musical highlights include "Simple Joys", sung by Vavra and the ensemble, "Spread a Little Sunshine", sung by the naughty queen Fastrada, played by Lauren Pastorek, "On The Right Track", which swings in the second act, and the aforementioned "Love Song".
Artistry is strong in this production, and Christina R. Giannelli creates a lighting concept that adds a lot of interest to the show. Costume designer Colleen Grady adds to the compelling visuals, particularly the Leading Player's black "ringleader" costume.
Is PIPPIN worth seeing? Yes, provided you aren't expecting a compelling storyline. Go for the music, the dancing, and the summer night air at Miller Outdoor Theatre. (But bring a pillow; those chairs are hard.)
Photo Credit: Melissa Taylor
PIPPIN will be presented at Miller Outdoor Theatre July 13 - July 16.
All performances are at 8:15 pm.