In Monumental Theatre Co.’s production of Pippin, young dreamers are still out to find their own corner of the sky — they’re just also likely to share that corner with their social media followers and be sure to take a selfie in the process.
Stephen Schwartz’s 1972 dubiously-historical musical (yes, King Charlemagne had a couple of sons — don’t take things too literally after that) has always lent itself to high-concept interpretations, most memorably in its circus-set 2013 Broadway revival (Monumental’s production, incidentally, relies on those newer contemporary musical arrangements).
Director Rebecca Wahls has created a Pippin for the millennial generation, though beyond the constant presence of cell phones among the players and the occasional lyrical adjustment, Pippin doesn’t get too wrapped up in this mildly on-the-nose conceit.
Instead, this Pippin largely succeeds based on the ensemble-driven show’s staying power, as well as the strength of this particular ensemble. Recent college graduate Pippin (Tiziano D’Affuso) is on a journey to find himself, and he spends the length of the play trying out different roles to see which one is a fit — war, politics, hedonism, and domesticitiy, to name a few. He’s led on this path by the Leading Player, an iconic musical theater role, this time embodied by the versatile Solomon Parker, a living one-man show. Parker may not have the same undercurrent of danger that many of those before him bring to the role, but the skilled, fluid dancer makes up for that in sheer star power and energy.
About that ensemble — Wahls has assembled a young crew of raw talent to embody Pippin’s generous supporting roles. Though it’s initially jarring to see a young woman taking on the scene-stealing role of Pippin’s saucey grandmother Berthe (flashback to every high school production in America), archly confident Rachel Barlaam particularly embraces the show’s Instagram-era conceit with her portrayal of Pippin’s scheming stepmother Fastrada (she’s also a standout ensemble member). Kaitlin Kemp is a sheer delight in the role.
DeCarlo Raspberry is a booming, larger-than-life King Charles, and Chani Wereley grounds the production with her portrayal of Catherine, Pippin’s love interest.
closes July 30, 2018
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This Pippin is particularly dance-driven — though Ahmad Maaty pays homage to the iconic original choreographer of the show, Bob Fosse (most blatantly in the vaudeville-influence “Glory” number), he still makes numbers like the almost-manic “War Is a Science” and the sizzling, sexy “Frolic” his own. The dancing is knockout, but the casual costumes and spare set make this a rather low-budget Pippin, with the occasional missed staging opportunities — left only to their own devices to sell individual numbers, Parker practically runs a marathon moving his way through “Simple Joys,” and D’Affuso gets similarly (and less successfully) taxed in “Extraordinary,” the show’s ode to, well, being above basic chores. Still, the audience remains engaged throughout, even if they may not know exactly what’s in store for them in Pippin’s sinister, jarring finale.
Pippin. Original Book by Roger O. Hirson . Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz . Directed by Rebecca Wahls. Music direction: Leigh Delano. Choreography: Ahmad Maaty. Lighting Design: Jason Aufdem-Brinke. Scenic Design: James Raymond. Costume Design: Kateri Kuhn. With Tiziano D’Affuso, Solomon Parker, Chani Wereley, DeCarlo Raspberry, Rachel Barlaam, Justin Sumblin, Kaitlin Kemp, Steven Labovitch, Aiden Brennan, Allie O’Donell, Melrose Pyne, and Lawrence Hailes. Produced by Monumental Theatre Company. Reviewed by Missy Frederick.