Thursday, August 27, 2009


‘PIPPIN’ reigns at Cain Park!

‘PIPPIN,’ the musical with words and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, that is now on stage at Cain Park, according to musical theatre scholar Scott Miller, "is a largely under-appreciated musical with a great deal more substance to it than many people realize.” He goes on to say, “the show has a reputation for being merely cute and harmlessly naughty; but if done the way director Bob Fosse envisioned it, the show is surreal and disturbing."

I thoroughly agree with Miller. ‘PIPPIN’ is one of my most liked scripts and contains my favorite Broadway song, “Corner of the Sky.”

I go to see productions of the show with fear. Happily, joyously, there is little to fear about the Cain Park production. The show proves, as the opening number states, that “There is Magic to Do.”

Take the intimate Alma Theatre stage, and place upon it Martin Céspedes’s brilliant choreography, the charming and talented Cory Mach (Pippin), add Nancy Maier’s finely honed musical direction, sprinkle in a generally talented cast, and top it off with the deft direction of Victoria Bussert. The results is a must see production.

The show, which was originally conceived by Schwartz when he was a student at Carnegie Mellon, was written while he was also working on ‘GODSPELL.’ (How’s that for a duo of shows from an unknown college student.)

‘PIPPIN’ is the story of Prince Pippin's quest to find personal significance. The Leading Player narrates the story. Pippin wanders through frustration, wars, politics, and love before he comes to a realization. His awareness is reached when the Leading Player offers him the perfect emotional and life satisfying high. (You don’t think I’m going to tell you what it is, do you?)

The show opened on October 23, 1972 in New York City with a cast that included Ben Vereen, Jonathan Rubenstein, Irene Ryan, Jill Clayburgh, and the then unknown member of the chorus, Ann Reinking. It was directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse.

Having seen that production, I can tell you, that Fosse’s building the show around the leading player, rather than Pippin, took the show off-message. The leading player’s magic is less the subject, than Pippin’s quest.

Bussert works her own magic by placing Pippin front and center. She even goes so far as eliminating the magic tricks commonly included in the staging and using the leading player as an audience guide, rather than as Pippin’s controller. Bussert has also used the alternate ending for the script. Her choice, wisely, plays up Pippin’s search and the wish for future awareness. (What is the “new” ending? You’ll have to go and see it for yourself!)

Céspedes is the area’s most creative choreographer. He performs his magic once again on the Alma Stage. He is blessed with a fine set of dancers, many of whom have been trained in Baldwin Wallace’s nationally recognized musical theatre program.

The cast, headed by the multi-talented Corey Mach, who has quickly established himself as a big time talent, was born to play Pippin. He inhabits the role. Blue eyes twinkling and filling with frustration and tears, he hits all the right notes. Jessica Cope (Leading Player) has a great singing voice and stage charisma, but often shouts her way through songs. The theatre is small. She is miked. Why all the excessive, ear splitting volume? Old pro, Maryann Nagel, delights with her sprightly version of ‘Simple Joys.” (I do wish, however, that the oft-used device of putting the words on a screen so the audience has them available when they are invited to sing along, had been used. I felt a little ridiculous singing out alone!) Devon Yates makes for a lovely Catherine and Joey Stefanko, a very talented “kid actor,” is character-right as her son Theo.

Some of the casting seemed off. Chris McCarrell, as Lewis, Pippin’s half brother, simply doesn’t have the physicality or personality to fit the role. Jay Ellis did a nice job as a member of the band of players, but wasn’t powerful enough as Charles. I also missed the real duck. The puppet didn’t do it me. But, with all the positives, these seem like nit-picking concerns.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: As the score states, because of the “Simple Joys” of the production, which is “Right on Track,” and “Extraordinary,” there is “Glory” at Cain Park. Go see ‘PIPPIN.’ I repeat, GO SEE ‘PIPPIN!’