Pippin is an ambitious undertaking for any theatre, let alone a high school production, but that’s no concern for the Northwest School of the Arts. Since education is their primary focus they choose challenging material. As stated in the program they alternate shows with strong singing, then shows with dance: “This is a dance year, and we have chosen Pippin, a play originally directed and choreographed by the most celebrated of all choreographers – the legendary Bob Fosse.” What’s interesting is that the dancing, as expertly choreographed by Eddie Mabry, is not an exact duplicate of Fosse’s style.  It is Fosse-like, and I think that’s the right decision.  The play opened on Broadway in 1972, and Fosse’s style, unique and innovative at the time, has been copied often.  The “razzle-dazzle” can look a bit worn; Mr. Mabry has done a good job reinventing it to some extent, still using Fosse’s stronger elements, yet bringing it up to date. 

The co-directors Charles LaBorde (principal of Northwest) and Corey Mitchell do an excellent job of getting their talented students to work together as a strong ensemble.  Every singer/dancer/actor stays in character even when the play calls for the fourth wall to be broken.  They deserve credit for the tone of the play, which is steady throughout.  Given the dark themes, and sometimes crude gags, they ably keep it on the lighter side by letting the audience in on the joke.

The story of Pippin is of a young man searching for self-fulfillment, told in a play within a play rock musical format. Pippin is the oldest son of Charlemagne, the great French king who ruled centuries ago in the late 700’s AD.  Pippin longs for his father’s approval, but also wants to find his own way and what will make him happy. 

The audience is guided on this “adventure” by Leading Player, Charles Osborne in a remarkably mature and charismatic performance. From the first minute he steps out to speak/sing to the audience with “Magic to Do” he is compelling.  This is a good thing since the Leading Player is the spine of the play. Mr. Osborne gives him an edginess that is just right; sarcastic and dark, but not too dark.  As Pippin, Kyron Turner is sympathetic from the start.  He’s so earnest in his bafflement about life, even as a self-absorbed idealist, that we want him to succeed.  In his first song, “Corner of the Sky” he skillfully conveys a yearning for a greater purpose.

Pippin meets with his father, Charles, to try and talk to him about his predicament, but the King is preoccupied with is own problems, namely war. Elijah Allred plays Charles deftly as a charming but clueless monarch who wishes Pippin would be happy enough as he is.  In his song “War is Science” he tries to explain that leadership is a heavy burden, but Pippin won’t understand this until much later. 

To say Pippin is having an identity crisis is a bit of an understatement; that allows many characters to influence or affect him.  He goes to see his grandmother, Berthe, Amanda Roberge, having fun with her character’s joi de vie, who tells him to relax and enjoy himself with the crowd pleaser “No Time At All.”  Then there is Fastrada, Jessica Richards, finding a good mix of villainy and mother love, his step-mother who is only interested in advancing her son Lewis, Colin Moore, convincingly playing the nit-wit half brother.

Pippin is educated, but that doesn’t bring fulfillment, so he pleads with Charles to let him become a soldier, but he finds only disgust and disillusionment.  Further, he finds no calling in art or music. Sex initially intrigues him, but what comes his way is too much of a good thing…which is quite funny.  Finally, he’s literally picked up off the road by a young widow, Catherine, well-cast and played by Blythe Reinhard, who asks him to do some mundane labor. He balks, but eventually begins to look at her and her son Theo, Taylor Griner, in an affecting performance, differently.  Yet even here, Pippin is not satisfied, and leaves Catherine.  She then sings, “I Guess I’ll Miss The Man” much to the annoyance of Leading Player, (and amusement of the audience), who tries to interrupt her saying she doesn’t have a song there.

The visual elements of the play are outstanding and add to the overall success of the play.  The costumes are inspired, especially the muted beige tones and various textures of the Ensemble actors.  The set design with its raked stage and drawbridge openings on either side, back lit screen (changing colors and scenes) is effective and spare yet all that’s needed.  Large cloth signs held by two signposts that appear periodically add to the inventiveness.  The directors make use of every opening on the stage for entrances and exits with actors popping up in unexpected places.

This is a long show and the orchestra of young musicians do a noteworthy job by not overpowering the singers, for the most part, so that the lyrics, alternately witty, blunt, mocking, and poignant can be heard. 

The story, of course, is not historically accurate, but then the story of Pippin is really a morality tale.  Pippin, as many young adults do, has a crisis as he finishes his education.  Then what?  He wants to matter, but how?  He’s ambitious but misguided as he gives in to life’s temptations and loses his way.  The end is where the play takes its darkest turn as Leading Player and the Ensemble encourage Pippin to take part in the “Grand Finale.”  Yet at the moment of death, literal or otherwise, Pippin realizes what finally matters in his life: the genuine love he ran away from with the widow.  The end is not your typical happy ending as the audience is left watching Theo head for the same journey as Pippin.  Life goes on following the same patterns and cycles, even though every generation thinks they can “do it better” than the previous one.  Wisdom is only gained after experience, mistakes and heartbreak.  As Leading Player says toward the end of the play, “Nothing ever turns out the way you think it’s going to.”  Likewise, this skillful production was certainly a surprise in that sense; it exceeded my expectations.

Performs March 14 - 16, 2008

Ann Marie Oliva
Ann Marie Oliva's plays have had over 80 productions across the US. She is founder of the playwrights in residence at Theatre Charlotte in North Carolina. Ann Marie is producer/editor of ARTS à la Mode, a website devoted to the arts that includes film and local theatre reviews.

~ Cast ~

Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Book by Roger O. Hirson

Directed by Charles LaBorde and Corey Mitchell
Choreographed by Eddie Mabry
Originally choreography by Bob Fosse
Musical Numbers Staged by Eddie Mabry and Corey Mitchell
Musical Direction by Matt Hinson
Musical Conduction by C. Shane Marcus
Senior Stage Management by Amy Rowland
Battle Sequences Staged by Zach Laws

Set Design by Charles LaBorde
Scenic Artistry by Brian Hester
Costumes Designed by Barbara Wesselman
Lighting Designed by Andrew Fisher
Sound Designed by Steve Gamble of UltraSound Audio
Technical Direction by David Ward

Principle Characters (in order of appearance)

Leading Player: Charles Osborne
Pippin: Kyron Turner
Charles, his father: Elijah Allred
Lewis, his half brother: Colin Moore
Fastrada, Lewis’ mother: Jessica Richards
Berthe, Pippin’s grandmother: Amanda Roberge
Catherine, a widow: Blythe Reinhard
Theo, her son: Taylor Griner
Female Ensemble:
Adara Blake
Lyndsay Burch
Shannon Byrne
Demetra Drayton
Lily Garzon
Kenzi Harwell
Liz Johnson
Noelle Mapstead
Lauren Ashley Radford
Maia Stewart
Morgan Wilson
Emily Witte
Male Ensemble:
Christian Bufford
Jura Davis
Alex Kelley
James Kennedy
Tyler Jimenez
Brandon Lawler
Joshua Mapstead
Luke Pizzato
Cory Wright
The Orchestra:
Anissa Aquero
Claire Archer
Nick Belvin
Kelsey Dayman
Frank DeRosa
Oscar Diaz
Lane Ellison
Adam Foote
Ross Frady
Gabrielle Grosso
Hilary Kearns
Sam McIntyre
Stephanie Rogers
Willa Smith
AJ Strickland
Timothy L. Stroman, II
Megan Tengel


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