Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's review of The Merchant of Venice
The original 1972 Broadway production was highly identified with Bob Fosse, who directed and added his sleek and stylized signature choreographic moves to just about every moment of the show, and the updated recent Broadway revival featured highly stylized acrobatics a la Cirque du Soleil. Instead of sticking with either of those concepts, director Beth Reynolds goes the somewhat minimalistic route with an almost bare stage, which lets the focus rest on the characters and story. Choreographer April Rozier does include a couple of Fosse-inspired moves in her varied and well danced moves.
The plot focuses on a group of performers who are overseen by a Leading Player who interjects and guides the story along. He tells the tale of naive young prince Pippin who has just returned home after getting his education. His father, the King Charlemagne, has married a much younger woman, Fastrada, and her son Lewis has already taken his place in Charlemagne's army. Pippin, not sure how he can prove himself, believes that going to battle will do just that, and so begins the first of many quests for Pippin to find his way in life. Along his journey he finds art and religion, has lots of mindless sex that leaves him empty and unfulfilled, meets up with his grandmother who gives him some wise advice, and encounters a young widow and her son. But all things don't exactly go the way as planned and Pippin still believes he is simply an "extra ordinary" man with an unfulfilled life. It is an interesting story about a young man on the search for his purpose in lifea life in which living in a castle and being wealthy may not be what is best, with Pippin instead preferring a life of modesty and "simple joys."
While the plot is intriguing, the book by Roger O. Hirson leaves a little to be desired. It bogs down a bit in the second act and has an ending that, while interesting, still feels a bit unfinished, especially in how the Leading Player keeps promising us a spectacular ending that isn't really that spectacular. Fortunately, the pop-rock score by Stephen Schwartz is wonderful, with several showstoppers including "Corner of the Sky," "Simple Joys," and "Morning Glow."
Nathan Sheppard makes an exceptional Pippin who is full of charm, awkwardness, and a sweet naiveté. We feel the excitement that Sheppard brings to the part and can see in his excellent facial expressions and gestures the longing Pippin has to be fulfilled and find his place in life. Sheppard's pure, strong voice excels on Pippin's many songs. Shawn Wong is equally good as the playful and taunting Leading Player.
The cast also includes Liam Thibeault and Johnna Watson as Charlemagne and Fastrada. Both are very good, with Thibeault instilling a regal and forceful tone to the fun King and Watson a joy as his conniving second wife. Noa Gauthier is Berthe, Pippin's grandmother, and she injects the part with a sense of spunk and fun-loving friskiness. As Catherine, the young widow Pippin meets who makes him realize the possibilities of a simple life, Ava Tyson brings plenty of depth and charm to the otherwise fairly simple part. Hayden Skaggs adds some moments of humor as Pippin's stepbrother Louis. All of the cast have exceptional singing voices which show off both the depth and wit in Schwartz's lyrics.
Director Beth Reynolds does a very good job of keeping the pace moving steadily forward and she uses the large ensemble cast quite effectively. Choreographer April Rozier's energetic steps are basic enough for the ensemble to navigate, and she includes specialized dances for the more talented dancers, with Ally Chisenski and Hallie Reggio delivering some exceptional Fosse moves.
Musical director Curtis Moeller achieves lovely harmonies from the large cast and a warm, large sound from the small orchestra. While the scaffold set design is bare, Maria Amorocho and Dave Ray's costumes are rich and textured. Dale Nakagawa's lighting is full of shadows and depth which helps with the more serious moments of the show, and the sound design from Pete Bish achieves crystal clear vocals.
Due to the somewhat lackluster script, Pippin isn't a perfect show, but it does have an excellent score by Schwartz that helps flesh out this musical into an upbeat and thrilling story of self-discovery. With a talented cast featuring some of the Valley's most gifted young actors, Greasepaint Youth Theatre's production is a joyful experience with many magical and memorable moments.
Pippin runs through October 30th, 2016, at Greasepaint Youth Theatre at 7020 E. 2nd Street, in Scottsdale. For information and to purchase tickets call (480) 949-7529 or visit www.greasepaint.org.
Director: Beth Reynolds