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BWW Reviews: SNS' PIPPIN Leaves Its Performers Hanging But Not The Audience

BWW Reviews: SNS' PIPPIN Leaves Its Performers Hanging But Not The Audience
CaptionAmber Knicole as the Leading Player shares a soft-shoe dance with Corbin Payne as Pippin in the Short North Stage production of "Pippin." Photo credit: Jodi Miller.

As the singer for the neofunk group MojoFlo, Amber Knicole has always been known as a risk taker, changing music styles and even leaping from a drum riser in high heels.

Performing as the Leading Player in Short North Stage's production of PIPPIN, Knicole faces a whole new set of challenges, including singing upside down from a trapeze six feet off the ground. PIPPIN, which runs from March 21-April 14 at the Garden Theatre (1187 N. High Street in downtown Columbus), could be best described as a circus. The SNS production features a host of performers in clown white as well as some Cirque du Soleil-like acrobatics in its retelling of Pippin's search for meaning in his life.

Stephen Schwartz (WICKED and GODSPELL) wrote the lyrics and composed the music for PIPPIN while Bob Fosse did the choreography. The musical's original look and feel, which features a mysterious performance troupe telling the story of King Charlemagne's son Pippin, appears to be heavily influenced by Schwartz's 1971 production of GODSPELL. PIPPIN garnered four Tony Awards in 1973, including Ben Vereen winning Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical.

SNS director and choreographer Edward Carignan, a long-time fan of the show, keeps Schwartz's and Fosse's original vision when putting together this production. Corbin Payne provides a beautiful tenor voice and plays the title role with a sense of sincerity at the beginning of the musical and a touch of world weariness at the end. Pippin tries to find fulfillment in the things of this world: education, war, sensuality, religion, and power but finds all of them empty pursuits.

Knicole adds a sinister, all-knowing ringmaster touch to this circus, beguiling at times and reprimanding at others. She helps the show break the fourth wall with a knowing wink to the audience. She introduces Catherine (Dionysia Williams) to the audience, "a young widow with a small boy ..." and then casts a disparaging eye over Catherine and amends her line to "a widow with a young son and a large estate." She later growls at Catherine, "You're getting a little old to play this part." Williams and Payne forge a solid chemistry as her character helps Pippin define who he is and who he should be.

Thom Christopher Warren's turn as Charlemagne and later Berthe is one of the show's highlights. He plays the role of the distracted father/tyrannical king with a flourish. Other featured players include Timothy P. Foszcz (Lewis), Mollie Downes (Fastrada) and Carson Kittaka (Theo/Modern Child).

It's easy to dismiss PIPPIN as a 70s throwback or a surreal, bizarre parable. But Schwartz's vision goes a lot deeper than that and hopefully audiences will get the message thanks to Short North Stage's production.

Short North Stage presents PIPPIN at the Garden Theatre (1187 N. High Street in downtown Columbus) with 8 p.m. shows on March 21-23, 28-30, April 4-6, and April 11-13 and 3 p.m. matinees March 24 and 31 and April 7 and 14.




From This Author - Paul Batterson


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