BWW Review: Fountain Hills Theater Presents PIPPIN
Fountain Hills Theater's opening weekend of PIPPIN just happened to coincide with Ben Vereen's appearance at the Musical Instrument Museum twenty miles away in Phoenix. Watching Peter J. Hill's production, it was impossible not to reflect on the legend's Tony-winning turn as The Leading Player and the popularity of the original 1972 production and its 2013 revival. (For a perspective on Vereen today, see BWW/Phoenix team member Tim Shawver's April 20 interview with the legendary performer.) Nor could one forget the additional accolades for the creative forces who collaborated in its initial staging: Tony nominations for Roger Hirson who wrote the book and Stephen Schwartz (WICKED) for best original score and two Tonys for Bob Fosse's direction and choreography.
Hill gives a noble stab at recreating some of the magic and energy of this show about a young prince who strives to find fulfilment in his life. What FHT's PIPPIN lacks in finesse (pitchy voices and awkward dance moves), it makes up for in the steady performance of its lead, Skyler Ponmai Washburn, the zeal of its ensemble, and the light-hearted but jaunty turns of Noël Irick as Pippin's paternal grandmother, Berthe, and Anthony Reyna as Lewis, Pippin's step-brother and rival for the throne.
In this iteration of PIPPIN, the always imaginative Hill sets the stage in a film studio named Helios (Where the stars shine bright!). Clips from silent movies roll on an upstage screen. The Leading Player, here an assertive but vocally challenged Kathi Osborne, exhorts the stagehands to get their act together and invites the audience to waste an hour or two doo-dle-ee-do and partake of the foibles and fables to be portrayed (Magic To Do). It is, after all, the fictionalization and immersion of historic characters, Charlemagne and his son Pippin, into absurd situations that is the thrust of this musical.
Pippin is the proverbial wanderer on the quest for meaning, navigating from one failed and unsatisfying adventure to another. If not as warrior, perhaps he'll find joy in sexual abandon. If loveless relationships offer no satisfaction, perhaps the answer lies in fighting tyranny. If, to that end, egged on by The Leading Player, he slays Charlemagne (played with appropriate pomposity by Bill Bennett) only to discover that being king is no easy gig, what is left to do or become? (There are those quite ready, by the way, to usurp his position at the drop of a hat ~ to wit, step-mother Fastrada (Brooke Arellano) and Lewis.
Lacey Dixon brings a ray of sunshine to the stage as the widow Catherine, whose kindness and attraction to Pippin reveals a simple truth about at which simple and ordinary hearth the heart can be truly at peace.
Given all of Pippin's ordeals and his final moment of enlightenment, the good news is that this production serves well as fun family fare with a solid message. In a robust and celebratory finale, the entire ensemble gathers to remind us all that in the circus of life, it's the simple things that shine brightest.
PIPPIN runs through May 5th in the Mainstage Theatre at Fountain Hills Theater in Fountain Hills, AZ.
Photo credit to Stephanie Tippi Hart (L to R: Lacey Dixon, Skyler Washburn and Kathi Osborne)
Fountain Hills Theater ~ https://fhtaz.org/ ~ 11445 N. Saguaro Blvd., Fountain Hills, AZ ~ 480-837-9661