Directed by David Chase
At Kirkland House
EVERYONE LOVES Pippin. It's the epitome of the young-man's-search-for-meaning musical, a close cousin of Candide, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, The Fantastiks, ad nauseum.
Everyone does Pippin. It's the quintessential college musical, replete with catchy tunes and snappy witticisms. So if you miss this year's Kirkland House production, someone else is bound to do it again soon.
In case you're one of the three people on campus who hasn't seen the musical before, the plot focuses on Pippin, the eldest son of the legendary King Charlemagne. Life isn't easy for this medieval version of "the troubled young man," ably played here by freshman Ted Stimpson.
Although the music and lyrics, written by Stephen Schwartz, sound as innocent and cheery as any song from a Rogers and Hammerstein musical, the plot and dancing would give Jerry Falwell an apoplectic fit. Haunted by a vague sense that something is missing, Pippin sings and dances his way through battles, assassinations and orgies. David Chase's direction never shrinks from graphic depictions of decadent revelry, so this Pippin is not a show for the faint of heart or the prudish.
Stimpson carries off Pippin's many solos with aplomb, although his voice is better suited to the more melodious ballads like "Corner of the Sky," than the faster, more sarcastic numbers.
Lack of fulfillment isn't the only thing that haunts Pippin; the "leading player," alias the narrator, also dogs his steps, constantly popping in and out at odd moments to offer encouragement and advice. In that role, Katherine Robin comes to bat with two strikes against her.
The leading player's music, originally written for a male voice, lost some of its power in transposition to the upper register. Robin's blatant sexuality, which was so appealing in a similar role in this winter's production of Joseph, doesn't quite fit in here. Still, her strong voice and wry sense of humor keeps her slink and slide routine from becoming camp.
HOWEVER, SOME aspects of the Kirkland production really do shine. Schwartz' score includes several interesting dance numbers, and choreographer Lesley Blumenthal takes advantage of them by lifting Bob Fosse's original choreography leg, stocking, and barre.
The dancing in the opening number, though marred slightly by imperfect lighting, casts a magical spell which lasts for much of the show.
Led by Blumenthal and Zak Klobucher as Pippin's stepmother and brother respectively, the dancers reenergize the somewhat flaccid middle section of the play.
However it is Jon Tolins, who nearly steals the show with his out-standing--and non-dancing--performances as both Pippin's father and grandmother. Roger Hirson's book gives these roles some of the funniest lines in the musical, and Tolins makes the most of them.
His performance of "No Time At All," Pippin's requisite show-stopper, has the audience literally singing right along with him. And even those who've never heard the music before can participate; the words to the chorus are in the program. Can you sing "It's time to start livin'," boys and girls?
However, that tune aside, theatergoers who expect a traditional musical, complete with happy-ever-after ending and rousing final chorus, should beware. Pippin is a true product of the anxiety-ridden '70s, and its conclusion offers no false hopes.
Pippin's dream girl, played by Sarah Beatty, says she's just "an average, ordinary kind of woman," and so is her singing. Beatty never manages to lift her role out of its one-dimensional and boring hole. Of course, that might be the point.
So Pippin, like life, isn't perfect, but that's what Pippin--and the audience--learn by the end of the show.