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BWW Review: PIPPIN at Osceola Arts

A magical performance with more than a few “twists”

BWW Review: PIPPIN at Osceola Arts "Everything has its season, everything has its time.." So goes one of the more recognizable songs, "Corner of the Sky" from Steven Schwartz' musical, PIPPIN, which is currently playing through April 25th at Osceola Arts. This lyric illustrates well the solid, entertaining and quite unique production - one which serves, as the director, J. Marie Bailey notes in the program, as a "social mirror" to reflect back on the community.

PIPPIN tells the tale of Prince Pippin (Malik Van-Hoozer Elliott), eldest son of KingCharlemagne (Kristie Geng) who, after finishing university goes on a journey of self-discovery - trying to find meaning for his life and something that can leave him fulfilled and truly happy. And, like so many young people of today (and throughout history for that matter), Pippin grows increasingly frustrated with each new thing when it doesn't fully answer his existential question. He tries war, something that his half-brother Lewis (Anastasia Sims-Chin) is quite good at, pleasure, at the urging of his grandmother, Berthe (Claudia L. Fain), and, egged on by his step-mother, Fastrada (Joey Nelan), even revolution. But through it all Pippin remains unfulfilled, that is until he meets Catherine (Kyle Anthony Radabaugh) and her young son, Theo (Alice DeHaen). Encouraged and guided along his journey by the mysterious Leading Player (Briana Moten) and her band of players, Pippin faces the reality of life and is forced to make a difficult choice - one between fame and glory and ordinary happiness.

BWW Review: PIPPIN at Osceola Arts PIPPIN is one of those musicals that has enjoyed steady life over the almost 50 years since its premiere, including a recent revival on Broadway that infused a 21st century sensibility and flair into the classic. Osceola Arts' production leans on some of those updated concepts, staging their production in a circus-like environment, complete with tent, stilt-walkers, and some amazing silk work from skilled aerialists. In the opening number, the troupe promises magic and entertainment and over the course of the show delivers in spades - from very effective magic tricks to thrilling acrobatics. What this production does differently, and in a way I have not seen in previous productions, is it gender-swaps many of the supporting roles. King Charles, his wife, their son, and even Pippin's eventual love interest, Catherine are all played by actors of different gender expressions than usual. And though I was skeptical upon realizing this change, it works quite well.

J. Marie Bailey's direction captures an appropriate level of energy and excitement and, when the time comes, elevates the darker, sinister nature of the "Finale" - a pivotal scene where I have seen lesser skilled directors falter in other productions. Her choices (including the gender mixed casting) ends up serving as strong reflections on the current situation(s) in our global community. She says "..we are collectively reevaluating our purpose, and maybe even the purpose of purpose."

BWW Review: PIPPIN at Osceola Arts I love reviewing community theatre productions, because there is a certain glimmer and glow in the eyes of the performers that doesn't always come through as clearly, even in a professional, Broadway show. This was definitely the case with Osceola Arts' PIPPIN. The cast is one of the hardest working I have seen in a while and delivers non-stop entertainment and escape. And though there are many great performances in this production, a few are worthy of special note. First, as the Leading Player, Briana Moten brings the house down with her bold and brilliant singing voice and solid acting chops. She is part ringmaster; part puppet master and her balance of enthusiasm and somewhat sinister motive makes for an extremely strong performance. As the titular hero, Pippin, Malik Van-Hoozer Elliott is just the right mix of naïve and determined and comes across as a sincere seeker of truth. As Pippin's father, Charles, Kristie Geng is a delight. The role is not necessarily one that audiences remember, but due to her comic timing, hilarious asides, and solid delivery, audiences at this performance certainly won't forget her Charles for a very long time.

As for the remaining creative team,BWW Review: PIPPIN at Osceola Arts Joyce Lemos' choreography is a beautiful homage to Bob Fosse's original, especially during the showstopping "Glory" number. Waylon Lemasters' Scenic designs (and sound design) are not only functional, but fabulous and set the scene perfectly. Matthew Carl's costumes are a brilliant patchwork of dark and color (perhaps a statement on the dual nature of the plot), with nice touches such as gilded lettering on the backs of each supporting characters top piece. Finally, Bradley Cronenwett's lighting adds a magical highlight to the evening (and, ironically, it is the lack of lighting at the end of the play that makes this abundantly clear.)

Finally, for those who haven't ventured out to the theatre yet due to continued pandemic caution, I do want to point out all the measures being taken to ensure the safety of the audience and the cast in this production. Temperature checks are performed when entering the theater, initial seating is done in sections to avoid too much contact, and seating has been blocked off to ensure the mandatory six feet of distance between patrons. Masks are required to be worn by attendees and they are worn by the cast throughout the production as well.

Overall, Osceola Arts' production of PIPPIN delivers on its promise that there is "Magic to Do" and does so with a flair that is not to be missed. As a recent transplant to the Orlando area, PIPPIN is the first production from Osceola Arts I have had the pleasure of attending (and my first foray indoors for a production since pre-Pandemic) and I look forward to seeing more great theatre in the future there.

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PIPPIN, presented by Osceola Arts runs through April 25th. Tickets start at only $25, with Senior, students, and group rates available. Performances are at 7:30pm on Fridays and Saturdays, 2pm on Sundays, and an additional 2pm matinee performance on Saturday, April 24th. Distanced seating and safety protocols are in place for all performances. For additional information and to purchase show tickets visit www.OsceolaArts.orgor call 407-846-6257.

All Photos provided by Osceola Arts and feature the cast of PIPPIN.


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