The first show of Academy Players 55th season is Stephen Schwartz's "Pippin". The show premiered on Broadway on October 23, 1972 and ran for 1,944 performances before closing on June 12, 1977. It starred Ben Vereen as the leading player and John Rubenstein as Pippin and was directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse. What is a boy to do when his father is Charlemagne, the Holy Roman Emperor? There is always the university or war or love or politics. But if one feels unsatisfied by books, repulsed by blood, exhausted by delights of the flesh and idiotic as a conspirator, one has a problem. And Pippin, oldest son of Charlemagne and heir to the Holy Roman Empire, is in such a dilemma. "Pippin" is an 8th century quest for fulfillment which finds itself finally and happily in peaceful domesticity. He first decides to become a soldier but sees the horrors of war, Pippin then visits his grandmother who tells him to live his life to its fullest, having as many sexual encounters as possible. When he realizes Charlemagne is back to his usual slaying of thousands, decides to kill him but since this show is an anachronistic fairytale, the king comes back to life. Pippin then meets an average ordinary woman, Catherine who picks him up off the street. Eventually Pippin is charmed by this woman with a small boy and a large estate. But still thinking that love isn't complete fulfillment, leaves her and with nothing else to try the show reaches its climax.This show is well directed and musically directed by Scott Morency who chose the best 19 people for all these roles as well as having taught them all the glorious melodies and intricate harmonies of these songs while Alex Garcia supplies the choreography to enthrall the crowd. This duo delivers the goods with their cast for a fantastic rendition and they are rewarded with a standing ovation at the close of the show.
Scott injects the show with large doses of humor and makes it into a romp of sexual escapades and innuendos with a cast of topnotch vocalists and excellent dancers. Scott not only plays the keyboards for this show but also conducts a 6 piece orchestra. The choreography by Alex is breathtaking and contains many different styles including ballet, jazz and soft shoe. (She does double duty in the show, dancing as the Leading Player) The gorgeous set design is by Amelia Smith who also is one of the players in the show. She does a superb job with the bright colors of the sets which include the flame set, Catherine's estate and the two story stairways which are moved around the stage with ease. Costumes are by Lori Vermilye with the lighting by Renee Surprenant and sound by Nick Allard. Hard working stage manager Rachel Nadeau keeps things moving beautifully onstage and backstage all night long.
Brad Kirton as Pippin is a joy to watch and listen to. His first entrance is when Alex comes into the audience to choose him to play Pippin. He has a wonderful tenor voice which soars in "Corner of the Sky" where he sings about his dreams of an extraordinary life and starts his search for meaning in life. Brad's other songs include a verse in "War is a Science" when he wants to hurry up to get to war, "With You" where he discovers sex during a dance orgy and learns that relationships without love leave you empty and unfulfilled, "Morning Glow" where he learns it isn't easy to be the Emperor, "Extraordinary" where he plugs his own self importance and doesn't want to work on Catherine's farm, (He enters the audience for this song, too) and the gorgeous ballad "Love Song" with Catherine where he finds meaning in life. Terry Shea is excellent as the Leading Player, who invites the audience to join the performers in a story about a boy prince searching for fulfillment. (He learned this huge role in one week.)The show opens with "Magic To Do" sung beautifully by Terry with 17 dancers swirling around the stage. His other songs include "Glory", where he leads the troupe in a mock battle. (It is really a song about the horrors of war written about the Vietnam protest back in the 1970's), "Simple Joys" about how Pippin travels through the country and relaxes at his grandmother's home, and "On the Right Track" with Brad where he inspires Pippin about finding his way in life with the both of them doing an energetic jazz dance. His argument scenes with Catherine and his controlling ones of Pippin are excellent, too. Terry played this role with Scott as Pippin back at RIC in 1991.
Charlemagne is excellently played by Gerry Maynard with regal authority. His character has an eye for the pretty girls. He uses his topnotch voice in "Welcome Home'' where he asks Pippin how things are but ignores what he says. His "War is a Science" stops the show while the warriors do an excellent march to this number. He has many funny one liners including my favorite, "Lewis is an asshole." His evil second wife Fastrada is played by Bethany Giammarco Oliveira and their bloodthirsty dimwitted son Lewis is played by James Lambert. Bethany's fabulous voice sells "Spread a Little Sunshine" while she and do a sexy dance to it. Bethany wears a sexy low cut red dress as the character. Fastrada plots the overthrow of Charlemagne trying to get her son to be the king. Bethany's one liners are very humorous,too. James is very funny as the egotistical son who loves himself. Both of them brighten up the stage during their scenes. He is wonderful being able to play a stupid, dummy who makes his lewd and lascivious behavior laugh out loud moments. An extremely comic performance is given by Laura Leach as Berthe, Charlemagne's mother. She steals the show in her "No Time at All'' number dressed in a black leather outfit with a whip as a sexy dominatrix. It's an interactive song with the audience while she tries to convince Pippin to enjoy his life because she certainly did and still does.Two other talented stars in this show are Alison Marchetti as Catherine, Pippin's girlfriend and Eric Halvarson, plays her son, Theo. Ali, a pretty brunette, has a lovely voice belting out "Kind of Woman" where she tries to seduce Pippin, "Love Song" where they finally admit their love and the gorgeous earnest ballad, "I Guess I'll Miss the Man, my favorite song in the show, where she laments their break up while she plays the piano onstage while singing it.Nine year old Eric, wins the sympathy of the audience with Otto, his duck. This young actor makes the most of his limited stage time, playing the comic death of the duck scene, the humiliation scene and handles this role with ease. Kudos to the other singers and dancers rounding out the cast. So for a splendid look back at the wild and wacky happenings in the time of Charlemagne, be sure to catch "Pippin" at Academy Players before it dances out of town. (I was lucky enough to see John Rubenstein and Ben Vereen in the show back in 1974 on Ben closing night as the Leading Player.)