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BWW Review: PIPPIN Enchants at Arena Dinner Theatre

BWW Review: PIPPIN Enchants at Arena Dinner Theatre

Arena Dinner Theatre's production of Pippin opened last weekend amidst a flurry of glitter and sequins. The musical, which opened on Broadway in 1972 and again as a revival in 2013, features music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, probably best known otherwise for his smash hit Wicked. Pippin follows the story of a troop of actors and their Leading Player to tell the story of Pippin, young prince and son of King Charlemagne, as he searches for his life's purpose and significance.

As a whole, Arena's Fort Wayne production was thoroughly enjoyable, if hit-and-miss at times. The vocal numbers were stunning and a definite highlight of the show; I would say this is particularly true of group chorus numbers like "Morning Glow" and the opening number "Magic To Do." This ensemble really hits their harmonies strong. Comedic characters also earned the raucous laughs they received, including Pippin's half-brother Lewis (James "Hammy" Oullette) and Theo (Randall Keeling) with his sick duck. Pippin, too, as played by the cherubic Jakob Tomlinson, managed to balance his comedic dialogue with scenes of more emotional weight. In a musical where the audience must care about Pippin in order to care about the show at all, Tomlinson did a fabulous job garnering empathy for his character's plight.

On the other hand, one weakness of this production would be the show's choreography, which was entertaining and well-designed but shakily executed at times during large group numbers. Some dancing was wildly impressive, like the Leading Player (Chris Rasor) and Pippin's "On the Right Track," the opening of the second half of the show. But in a few of the larger dance numbers, the choreography was less synchronized, especially noticeable since I always find myself distracted when one or two of the dancers are clearly off-beat in comparison with the rest of the whole.

Another fair warning: this production is heavy on the fog and haze, and in one scene, the strobe lighting. That scene in particular, I think, could have achieved the same effects without a continuous minute or two of blinding strobe light. But other than that, I was pleased with the performance and production as a whole.

If you haven't seen Pippin before, the musical ends in a spectacularly surprising way - but for those who have seen it, you might keep an eye out in the early parts of the show for hints of that unsettling finale. The Leading Player's increasing intensity through the second half, as well as convincing performances by the ensemble, help make that ending pay off (in the ensemble, I'm thinking of Zach Hunnicutt in particular, who was not only stunning to watch in every number but also really sold the "troubling" aspect of the troupe of players).

If you're looking for a night of food, fun, laughs, and maybe an existential question or two, be sure to check out Pippin during the remainder of their run over the next two weekends.

The show is directed by Abby Ehinger with musical direction by Ben Wedler. Arena Dinner Theatre is located on Rockhill in West Central downtown. Dinner is served at 7, with the show to follow at 8; for dates/times or further information, see their website.

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From This Author Tara Olivero