BWW Review: PIPPIN at Ephrata Performing Arts Center
How appropriate that Ephrata Performing Arts Center selected Pippin as its summer musical. The heat on stage easily matches the muggy temperature of the July night outside. Pippin is a smart and sexy show; and the cast brings it to life wonderfully. Newcomer, Jeremy Hammer plays the eponymous title role with a sense of restlessness that the show requires. Through voice and mannerism he is always on the look out for THAT NEXT BIG THING-whatever that may be. Not until the finale does Pippin find true satisfaction through unexpected means.
Michael Roman embodies The Leading Player, a role that is part emcee, part narrator, and part devil on your shoulder. Roman has astounding charisma which he uses to seduce, confuse, and persuade. He has a strong and soulful singing voice that easily matches the originator of the role, Ben Vereen. I couldn't take my eyes off of him every time he appeared on stage.
Kevin Lambert plays Charles, Pippin's wise but gruff father. I especially liked his number War is a Science for its rapid fire but clearly enunciated lyrics. Pippin's no-good step mother, Fastrada was played by Elizabeth Checchia. Fastrada is a good bit sexier than the Wicked Witch role that Elizabeth played a while back, but just as nasty. Kudos for her impressive gymnastics on the pole!
One part of the show that didn't work for me was Pippin's scene with his grandmother, Berthe. This was by no means a reflection on the performance of the very talented, Clare Daher, who was having a lot of fun with the part. Instead, I think the running joke of a older woman with an active libido is pretty dated.
In the second act, we are introduced to Catherine (Jordan McCrady), a widow, and her young son, Theo (Sanjay Samuel) who further complicate Pippin's goal to live an extraordinary life. McCrady effectively plays Catherine as a woman who is simplistic, but not simple. She has a lovely voice that is put to good use. Samuel has some memorable moments as the bratty kid that Pippin tries to win over. He can easily hold his own on the stage with the grown-ups.
Co-directors, Ed Fernandez and Kristin Pontz do a good job with blocking, especially on a mostly empty set. Pippin does not require elaborate set pieces, so a large center ramp, some stripper poles, and a few sets of stairs are pretty much all that is needed to bring the story to life.
Kristin Pontz's choreography and Kate Willman's costumes added significant sizzle and fit in quite nicely to the overall vision of the production. The 16 member ensemble was athletic and attractive. Their consistent presence throughout the show added a lot to the finished product.
Last, but not least, the 6 member band was tight and toned. I highly prefer when EPAC puts the musicians up front rather than being piped in from backstage. It adds to the magical immediacy of live theater.
EPAC's Pippin is an original and very entertaining musical. It explores the concept of living your best life. It plays now through August 3rd. Tickets and more info can be found at their website. Come see them. They have magic to do.