BWW Review: PIPPIN at The Playhouse
There was an abundance of "Magic To Do" in PIPPIN, The Playhouse's penultimate production this season. This tour brought along skilled acrobats that dazzled the crowd not only with their Cirque de Soleil-type gymnastics but with jaw-dropping magic. Aisle Say's favorite was the Senor Wences disembodied head. (Millennials are asking, "quien"?)
The plot - as it is - uses the premise of a mysterious performance troupe, led by a Leading Player (Housso Semon), to tell the story of Pippin (Naysh Fox), a young prince on his search for meaning and significance. His father Charlemagne of The Middle Ages - named Charles in this show (Brendon Schaefer) is King of the land. Any other historical context is nowhere to be seen for the play really derives from Burlesque by Faust. It is more a platform for the talents of composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz (GODSPELL and WICKED) and the legendary Bob Fosse. (Note: In one year alone Fosse won an Oscar for CABARET, a Tony for PIPPIN and an Emmy for directing TV's LIZA WITH A Z).
This production is non-equity with a young cast, many of whom were on their first national tour. The caliber of the singing and dancing exceeded Aisle Say expectations. It does prove one thing: if a young, talented and passionate group have a creative team with substantial Broadway credentials, the foundation is set for success. Original direction is by multi-award winner Diane Paulus who has the revival of HAIR and Cirque de Soleil in her scrap book.
Fosse dancing is a different dialect. It incorporates trademark moves that separate it from any other style. Choreographer Chet Walker has major Fosse cred, appearing in the original '72 production of PIPPIN and co-choreographing the Broadway show FOSSE with Fosse lover and protégé Ann Reinking. While this dancing is 'in the style' of Fosse, the producers mandated that a signature number, 'Manson Trio' be exactly Fosse. Semon and two others in the troupe recreated the bit exactly how Aisle Say remembered it in its original production.
The first act was a bit long. Since the story line is down in a picaresque manner, a scene or two could have been cut or minimized. It is not that any of them deserved to be shortened, but audiences are generally used to Act I being an hour and Act II about 50 minutes. Act II's bedroom scene was long. We get what Pippin and the charming Catherine (Savannah Sprinkle) do in bed. Intermissions are normally 15 minutes and this one went for 20. A snip here and a tweak there would have made the production tighter.
The fantasy of Cirque de Soleil was exhibited in the original costuming by Dominique Lemieux, one of the Canadian company's founding costume designers. The intense splash of color is the first thing that hits the audience with a broadside, a dynamic way to begin the show. Each was hand painted and none were duplicated. Wow.
Fastrada's (Erica Lee Cianciulla) "Spread A Little Sunshine" was a show stopper. The young lady is a triple threat and has great charisma. (Her costume changes were part of the magic of the show).
Through Mar 12 ThePlayHouseDE.org 302.888.0200
ONCE, the finale for the season, opens Mar 21.
The Playhouse has announced next season: It includes WIZARD OF OZ, CABARET (more Fosse), DIRTY DANCING and MOTOWN.