BWW Review: PIPPIN IN CONCERT Lacks Magic at The Laurie Beechman Theatre
Stephen Schwartz's hit musical PIPPIN boasts one of Broadway's most indelible scores, and as such, it's easy to understand why Producer Vanessa Paradis and Dream Productions might be drawn to present the show in a concert format.
But in their eagerness to offer a fully staged rendition of the show, PIPPIN IN CONCERT, now being given an unfocused presentation on the cramped stage of the Laurie Beechman Theatre (at the West Bank Cafe) proves that without strong directorial leadership and technical expertise, the musical can be a leaden experience.
Boasting a cast of 12 (including Paradis as the Leading Player) and a 7 piece band under the musical direction of Logan Medland, the production, when it sticks to Schwartz's music, is mostly fine. Tanner Callicutt makes for an appealing, baby faced and sweet voiced title character, and there is strong vocal support from supporting cast, including Sean Patrick Murtagh as Lewis, Sam Belanger as Charles, and most especially Liz Asti, the evening's biggest find (and uncredited in the program) as Pippin's love interest Catherine. In their hands, solos like the pop hit "Corner of the Sky," the tongue-in-cheek, "Kind of Woman," and group endeavors (the anthemic "Morning Glow" and driving "Finale / Think About Your Life" ) receive full choral heft.
But as directed and choreographed by Wendy Hall, the production's staging, which borrows heavily (and sloppily) from original director, Bob Fosse's own signature moves, feels under rehearsed and half baked. It doesn't help matters that Roger O. Hirson's book for PIPPIN (always a bit problematic) relies so heavily on stagecraft to land both its jokes and its story. Unfolding at a plodding pace and with little attempt at illusion, the plot to PIPPIN here often feels undecipherable, and its grandly theatrical concept baffling.
Plagued on opening night by a myriad of lighting and sound issues (given the amount of staging, it was probably a mistake to have some members of the company in body mics and others resigned to stationary stands) it might be easy to simply write off this PIPPIN IN CONCERT as an overly ambitious misfire. But with two more performances on the calendar, hopefully Paradis (who, incidentally, should not be confused with the French actress and singer, Vanessa Paradis of Johnny Depp fame) and her team can tighten, streamline, and focus on the score - if there is any 'magic to do,' that's where they'll find it.
Vanessa Paradis & Dream Productions present PIPPIN IN CONCERT, book by Roger O. Hirson, Music & Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Directed & Choreographed by Wendy Hall. Assisted by J. Taylor Wright. Music Direction by Logan Medland. Assisted by Brian Shaw. Featuring Vanessa Paradis (Leading Player), Tanner Callicutt (Pippin), Sam Belanger (Charles), Sean Patrick Murtagh (Lewis), Jaimie Barton (Fastrada), Mardie Millit (Berthe), Peter Alexeev (Theo), and J. Taylor Wright, Sadie Goodman, Daniel Deist & Talia Dooz (Players). RUNNING TIME: 2 hours (with no intermission).
Photo by Helane Blumfield.