Saturday, June 25, 2011


PIPPIN tries hard, but misses the message at Weathervane

To many people, Stephen Schwartz’s musical, PIPPIN, which is now in production at Weathervane Theatre, is a slight musical that is cute, harmless and a little bit naughty. To me, it is a story of meaning and significance. We observe as Pippin, a young prince, searches for purpose in his life. A life he wishes to be “something more than long.”

Schwartz’s music and lyrics paint a clear tale of Pippin as he searches for his “corner of the sky.” He doesn’t understand why, “I don't fit in anywhere I go?” He has daydreams, and perceives that “thunderclouds have their lightening” and “eagles belong where they can fly,” but he can’t seem to find purpose for his existence. He wants to go where his “spirit can run free.” This is heady stuff. And, if interpreted correctly by a director and a cast, there is a reverent, almost spiritual underbelly to the goings-on.

I agree with musical theatre scholar Scott Miller who, in From Assassins to West Side Story, stated, "PIPPIN is a largely under-appreciated musical with a great deal more substance to it than many people realize.”

The musical uses the premise of an acting troupe, led by a Leading Player, who tells the story of characters, based on real-life people who lived in the middle ages. Yes, there was a Pippin and a Charlemagne, but the images in Schwartz’s tale don’t have much historical accuracy.

The show opened on Broadway in 1972, played almost 2000 performances, and at present ranks as the 30th longest-running Big Apple show, exceeding SOUTH PACIFIC, MARY POPPINS and HAIR. It starred Ben Vereen as the Leading Player, Jonathan Rubenstein as Pippin, Jill Clayburgh as Catherine (the female love interest), and Irene Ryan as Berthe (Pippin’s outlandish grandmother).

The wonderful score includes: Corner of the Sky, Glory, Simple Joys, With You, Morning Glow and Love Song.

The Weathervane Playhouse’s production, under the direction of Eric van Baars, is slight on theme development and long on fun. Characters are broadly portrayed, with much feigning and surface performances. The choreography is nicely conceived, the music well performed, the singing often quite good.

Connor Simpson, who doesn’t fit the usual physical image of the actor who plays the role of Pippin, has a nice singing voice and has some fine moments.

Jayson Kolbicz, who dances well and has a pleasant vocal tones, but overacts, feigns emotion and is too flamboyant as the Leading Player. He overshadows and loses the importance of the character with an overdrawn fey characterization.

Samantha Rickard makes for a lovely and believable Catherine, while Maria Work never quite found a consistent identity for Fastrata.

Karen Wood needed to have more fun as Berthe, especially in Simple Joys. Henry Bishop was a fine Charlemagne. Cody Hernandez played at being Lewis, rather than being Lewis, often substituting pseudo-feminine gestures and over-extended facial expressions for meaningful actions.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Weathervane’s production of PIPPIN is long on glitz and short on meaning. It’s not bad, just, in my opinion, misses the opportunity to use the story and wonderful music to tell a purposeful message.