Review: PIPPIN: Growing Up Is Hard To Do

The production runs through August 13 at Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston in Waltham

By: Aug. 08, 2022
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Review: PIPPIN: Growing Up Is Hard To Do

The second and final production of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston's 2022 season is Stephen Schwartz's PIPPIN, originally produced on the Broadway stage in 1972 with direction and choreography by Bob Fosse, and revived/reimagined in 2013 by Diane Paulus at the American Repertory Theater before going to Broadway. Undaunted by following in those two very large sets of footsteps, RMT Artistic Director Rachel Bertone forges her own path to stage a version that leads with an enlarged heart and a healthy helping of fun and whimsy.

Simply put, the book follows young Pippin's idealistic quest for an extraordinary life. As the son of King Charles (Damon Singletary), Pippin (Kenny Lee) sees the world from a privileged viewpoint, yet is unable to see the forest for the trees laid out before him. Should he be a soldier, a revolutionary, a lover, or join the circus? Enticed from the opening number ("Magic to Do") by Leading Player (Davron Monroe) and his Players, it is all very head-spinning for the young man whose sense of self is severely overblown.

Charles is a strong leader, seemingly a good role model for Pippin, but doesn't have much interest in the scholarly boy. His attentions are drawn to his wife, the scheming, vivacious Fastrada (Katie Anne Clark) and her son Lewis (Joel Douglas), a good soldier because he is dumb. It falls on Granny Berthe (Kathy St. George) to impart helpful wisdom ("No Time at All") that motivates Pippin to sample whatever life offers.

Attired top hat to toe in a form-fitting red suit, Monroe makes his entrance upstage from the middle of the set, sidling along in Fosse-esque posture to establish control of the scene. He is mesmerizing in voice and dance, making the lyrics "Join us" less of an invitation and more of a hypnotic command. (My thought at the time was, "Ben Vereen - who?") He more than lives up to the moniker Leading Player.

Lee conveys the innocence, charm, and naïveté that make Pippin subject to the influences swirling around him. His performance strengthens as his character's journey brings forth changes in his personality, and he shares good chemistry with his scene partners. Singletary, Clark, and Douglas all have great comic chops, and the latter also stands out for his beautiful dancing. His pas de deux with St. George combines his comic and terpsichorean skills, while giving crowd-favorite Ms. St. G. a thrill ride. With or without the dance break, she brought the house down while doling out advice we could all use right about now.

Although she doesn't come along until the second act, Kayla Shimizu makes a strong impression as Catherine, the ordinary woman hoping to make a life with Pippin (if he can ever stop thinking that he's extraordinary). Her Snow White personality, her lovely voice, her persistence, and her belief that quotidian moments make up a life, work to convince us - if not him - that what they share is enough.

An ensemble that collectively and individually shines keeps the story flowing along by means of Bertone's interpretive choreography. A special tip of the cap for the so-called Manson Trio Dancers, Monroe, Joy Clark, and Deirdre Roberts. Music Director Dan Rodriguez fronts an orchestra of twelve stellar musicians (unfortunately, a little overpowering at times) that does justice to Schwartz's score. As director, Bertone has the good fortune to work with a cast of veteran featured players, mixing with numerous Boston Conservatory students and alums, and 13-year old Ian Prime (Theo) as Catherine's son.

And so, Rachel Bertone draws the curtain on her first season as Artistic Director, having taken over after the retirement of founder and long-time A.D. Robert Eagle in June, 2021. Paired with new Managing Director Emma Calabrese, they have shown their commitment to honoring the legacy of Reagle Music Theatre and its tradition of programming Broadway-calibre productions. After the last couple of years, it's great to see the stage lit up and hear those dancing feet again. The two shows from this summer bode well for future seasons.

Photo Credit: Courtesy Reagle Music Theatre/Herb Philpott (Davron Monroe and Company)

PIPPIN

Book by Roger O. Hirson, Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, Directed and Choreographed by Rachel Bertone, Music Direction by Dan Rodriguez; Scenic Design, Cameron McEachern; Costume Design, Jake O'Hara and Emerald City Theatricals (Brian Simons, Johnny Cagno); Lighting Design, Franklin Meissner Jr.; Technical Director, Lori E. Baruch; Props Supervisor, Lauren Corcuera; Sound Design, Robby Davis; Fight Choreographer, J.T. Turner; Production Stage Manager, Brian M. Robillard

CAST: Kenny Lee, Davron Monroe, Damon Singletary, Katie Anne Clark, Kathy St. George, Ian Prime, Joel Douglas, Kayla Shimizu; Ensemble: Brendan Sheehan, Lauryn Withnell, Deirdre Roberts, Brian Pereira, Joy Clark, Annaliese Wilbur, Micheline Wu, Ezra Noel, Aimée Coleman, Andy Edelman, Rachel Madsen, Teddy Edgar, Ella Amarante

ORCHESTRA: Conductor, Dan Rodriguez; Jeffrey Leonard, Jeri Sykes, Ron Christianson, George Jones, Caroline Leguia, Paul Alperin, Tom Young, Wayne Ward, Mindy Cimini, Rusty Chandler, Joshua Goldman, Zachary Hardy

Performances through August 13 at Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston, 617 Lexington Street, Waltham, MA; Box Office 781-891-5600 or www.reaglemusictheatre.org




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