BWW Review: PIPPIN at Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre

BWW Review: PIPPIN at Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre

The four-time, Tony ® award-winning musical, PIPPIN, is currently making a national tour stop at Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre, in Lancaster, PA. The cast of PIPPIN has toured the show across the United States and Canada for a total of 153 performances. The shows, currently running through September 23, 2017, will sure to be just as alluring as all the others.

With music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, and under the direction for this production by Mia Walker, Dutch Apple's PIPPIN arrives with the grandeur conjuring of one's imagination and proceeds to portray magic in the fantastical style of a Salvador Dali painting.

There is something for everyone to watch consistently throughout the length of the production. At first, in Act One, the visual stimuli are overwhelming, then it becomes comfortably numb. The performance of Leading Player by Housso Semon, is outstanding in its exactness of movement and demanding of attention. Semon lights the stage with her effervescent style. As the narrator of the story, Semon works determinedly and with unresolved talent to carry the cast through the paces of the scenes. There are "wow" moments to be sure as the aerobatic players dazzle the audience with their movements and extraordinary talent. But, without them and the flamboyant costumes (expertly designed by Dominique Lemieux), Act One, in this production, suffers from unclear direction and character development. Opportunities were missed to bring to light the necessary subtext that aligns with the fluidity of the story's continuum. In addition, the stage lighting is a big problem in this production. Most actors are dimly lit, especially when downstage (toward the audience). More than half the time the lighting design did not effectively convey its role as the subtle atmosphere necessary to marry with the performers and the scenes. Instead, when the lighting marks were missed, the lighting stood out as noticeable blunders.

Then came Act Two and the production (minus, again, the lighting) seemed like a brand-new story being told. It had clarity, direction and worth mentioning, the most outstanding comedic actor in the show: Savannah Sprinkle, portraying Catherine. Sprinkle (and how wonderful of a name is that?!) enters with brilliant comedic timing and purposefully subtlety. She also confidently conveys Catherine's more serious emotion when needed. When she and Pippin (Naysh Fox) sing LOVE SONG, they both do so beautifully, each allowing space for their character's vulnerability to shine through.

PIPPIN is certainly a feast for the eyes, and has a place for one's soul. Dutch Apple does a fine job of entertaining the audience and getting to the heart of how to find one's own "Corner of the Sky."

I had the opportunity to intervew two of the leads in the production: Housso Semon (Leading Player) and Naysh Fox (Pippin).

Christy Brooks: What made you want to play the role of Pippin?

Naysh Fox: There are many rewarding aspects of playing Pippin, but the one that stands out is knowing that the character of Pippin is relatable to everyone in the audience. Everyone has been on or is on a journey to find fulfillment in their life, so having the opportunity to reach out and encourage the audience to question and reflect, on life, is a great responsibility and honor.

Christy Brooks: I see where you played Riff in WEST SIDE STORY and The Prince in ONCE UPON A TIME. How does Pippin contrast and compare to each of those roles?

Naysh Fox: Both Riff and The Prince struggled with external conflict, Riff wanted the Sharks out of the neighborhood, and the Prince wanted to find a way to be with Cinderella. However, Pippin is struggling with an internal conflict of trying to find complete fulfillment, and what he is meant to do with his life.

Christy Brooks: Where is home for you? What do you think you will miss most about home while traveling on this national tour?

Naysh Fox: Home is where the heart is, and truer words have never been spoken for actors. I currently have an apartment in New York, however I have spent more time traveling than in my apartment. Traveling can be physically and mentally straining but I feel so blessed and privileged to be traveling the country with the amazing talents, in the cast of "Pippin". What I miss most about home, is the consistency of everyday life, waking up, going to the gym, taking class, etc... however I never got truly homesick, because every night myself, the cast, and crew loved coming together to tell this amazing story across the country.

Christy Brooks: Do you have any pre-show rituals you would like to share?

Naysh Fox: Before every show I try and take about 15-20 minutes to get into character, ask myself what the character wants, and what his actions are, in trying to achieve his goals. Then I say thank you, for having the opportunity to do what I love every day, because I know how difficult this profession is and how many extremely talented artists are without work.

Christy Brooks: What is the best mistake you have ever made on stage? How did that turn out for you?

Naysh Fox: The biggest mistake I made on stage, thankfully was not during a performance. The new version of "Pippin" incorporates a circus element, which translates to acrobatic tricks. In our version, the character Pippin is required to execute some of those tricks. While we were in tech, I was training a back tuck, and unfortunately, I got nervous and closed my eyes while in the air, and landed on my face. Fortunately, I had a spot and a mat so my face only got scraped up, but it was hands down the scariest thing that I have encountered on stage. I am happy to say that over the course of the tour, our fantastic acrobatic coach came back, we worked together, and the back tuck is back in the show!

Christy Brooks: Did you ever consider doing anything else besides theatre?

Naysh Fox: The short answer would be "no," but there have been times where I questioned if this was a career I could sustain. Every time I thought of the possibility of doing something else, my gut kept telling me not to, and I am so thankful that it did. Telling amazing stories and encouraging an audience to reflect, question, laugh, cry etc., is what truly makes me happy. And I know, at this present moment, pursuing another career would leave me unfulfilled.

Christy Brooks: If you had the chance to perform with anyone, past or present, who would it be?

Naysh Fox: When I was six years old I watched the movie "Hearts in Atlantis" starring Anthony Hopkins. I remember being so moved by his performance and wanting to be able to have that impact on people. After that I told my mother that I wanted to be an actor, and although other interests came up along the way, my love and passion for acting never left, and it was because of the impact Anthony Hopkins made on me. So, if I could perform with any actor it would have to be Anthony Hopkins.

Christy Brooks: What is the biggest challenge about playing Pippin?

Naysh Fox: Having "Pippin" be an Everyman's story, the challenge I face is doing my best to make the audience find my portrayal of the character relatable in that everyone has or is searching for something important and meaningful to do with their life. In addition, I hope my performance urges people to be strong within and to not compromise for the sake of others.

Christy Brooks: How is the role of Pippin most like you?

Naysh Fox: When I first read the script, I thought that "Pippin" was an "everyman's" story of trying to find meaning and fulfillment, and it is, but to me it has become so much more. Taking this journey night after night, I realized that this isn't just an everyman's story, it's a story about a particular type of person. A person that is willing to risk it all repeatedly for the hope of finding true fulfillment. It's a story about artists, and what we risk and give up, so we can do what we love. So, I feel that the character of Pippin and I are very similar.

Christy Brooks: Congratulations on your national tour debut as the Leading Player in PIPPIN. What is the most exciting personal aspect about this opportunity? What is the most exciting professional aspect about this opportunity?

Housso Semon: The two are the same. I've attained some amazing skills because of this show (trapeze), I've had the blessing of learning this choreography from Chet Walker himself, and being able to play such a powerful female character has been amazing!

Christy Brooks: How do you find this role's character development differs from other roles?

Housso Semon: I've never had to play a role that has require so many skills that I didn't already have. For example: trapeze, hula hooping while singing, and twirling a baton. I am incredibly thankful that our creative team could teach me these things. Also, I've never played a role where I was in charge of every single person on that stage.

Christy Brooks: What was your very first theatre experience?

Housso Semon: I saw Aida on Broadway with my middle school choir. I was hooked!

Christy Brooks: When did you know you wanted to perform for a living?

Housso Semon: I've always known. My aunts are singers. I grew up around music and performance. I've always felt like it was my place and I've never wanted to be anywhere else.

Christy Brooks: What do you like best about being on tour?

Housso Semon: Being able to see how different parts of the country react to the show! A lot of the political moments in the show are very relatable to today. The show is about the human experience and everyone can relate to it.

Christy Brooks: Have you performed in dinner theatres before? If so, how do find the audiences are different or the same, as traditional theatre venues?

Housso Semon: I've performed at a dinner theater in Colorado and at the Prather's Theater, The Broadway Palm, in Fort Myers, Florida. From my experience, they tend to bring in a more mature crowd.

Christy Brooks: What do you want the audience to interrupt from your performance as the Leading Player?

Housso Semon: I would like them to interpret my performance as they please. I want them to decide for themselves. The beautiful thing about this show is that every single audience members gets their own interpretation of the show.

Christy Brooks: Have you had challenges in your life that you have had to overcome and that you feel has strengthen you as a performer?

Housso Semon: Yes. As actors, we use our life experience to help build our characters and without them we wouldn't be able to be true to the work.

PIPPIN at Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre runs through September 23, 2017. Tickets can be purchased by calling 717-898-1900, or online at dutchapple.com

Photo courtesy of: Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre




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