Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Pippin"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"


entire contents copyright 2005 by Tony Annicone

"Pippin"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Turtle Lane Playhouse's current show is the musical, "Pippin" which opened on Broadway on October 23, 1972. It starred Ben Vereen as the leading player and John Rubenstein as Pippin. The story centers on Charlemagne's oldest son, Pippin who is a young prince in 780 A.D., he is searching for fulfillment in the outside world. He first decides to become a soldier but sees the horrors of his father's various campaigns against the barbarians. He then visits his grandmother, who tells him to live life to the fullest by enjoying many sexual encounters as possible. Pippin realizes her advice isn't so wise after all. Meanwhile, Charlemagne, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, is back to his usual business of slaying thousands. Upon hearing this, Pippin murders his father but after trying to rule his empire for a short time discovers it is more difficult than he thought and brings his father back to life. ( The show is an anachronistic fairytale so anything can happen.) Pippin tries different careers, failing at them all and finally ends up in despair. Then suddenly out of the blue, your average ordinary kind of woman, Catherine 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, he leaves her and with nothing else to try the show reaches its climax. Director James Tallach takes this musical, injects it with large doses of humor and makes it into a joyous romp of sexual escapades and innuendos with a cast of excellent vocalists and topnotch dancers to give it the powerhouse presentation it deserves.

This is James' first directorial work at Turtle Lane but he is an experienced director of many shows in other venues. He pays strict attention to the characterizations presented in this show, making them come alive to current day audiences. James is ably assisted by Wayne Ward, the music director who taught the performers their numbers, plays the keyboards and conducts the orchestra. The dance numbers choreographed by Patricia Strauss are excellently executed by these talented performers and she doesn't copy Fosse's steps, bringing a fresh breath of air to this show. The colorful set and the lighting is by Jeff Gardiner while the gorgeous costumes are by Richard Itszack. Stage manager Christopher Teague keeps things running smoothly backstage and onstage all night long.

The cast is lead by sixteen year old Russell Peck as Pippin. His strong tenor voice soars in "Corner of the Sky" where he starts his search for meaning in life, "With You" where he discovers sex during a huge dance orgy, "Morning Glow" where he finally becomes king, "Extraordinary" where he plugs his own self importance and "Love Song" a duet with Catherine where he finally finds meaning in his life. Russell dances and acts very well as the naive prince who needs to grow up quickly in a barbaric world. (The talking head of a dead barbarian is played by Joshua Kaufman who is one of the fabulous dancers in this show.) (The role is done on alternating performances with Gary Ryan.) The leading player is played by Shanna McEachern, an energetic redhead who opens the show with "Magic to Do" with no white gloves in sight, "Glory" about the horrors of war (with an excellent soft shoe dance), "Simple Joys" about Pippin relaxing at his grandmother's home, "The Right Track" with Pippin where they sing about finding his way in life and the finale where the cast wants to light Pippin on fire. (A bizarre ending for a musical but remember this was written in the 1970's and James gives it a more hopeful ending with Theo singing a verse of "Corner of the Sky".) Steve Gagliastro plays the role on alternating nights.

Erin Tchoukaleff plays Catherine. She is a pretty wisp of a girl with a powerful voice. She knocks your socks off with her solos, "Kind of Woman" where she sings about being an ordinary woman and "I Guess I'll Miss The Man" which is a gorgeous, earnest ballad where Pippin decides to leave her (one of my favorite songs) as well as "Love Song" duet. Sam Blumenfeld, a 9 year old wins the sympathy of the audience with Otto, his duck. He tries to help Pippin recover from his dispair by yelling at him, praying for his duck and in his final solo song to the audience. This little blond haired boy handles this role with ease.(Nolan Murphy is Theo every other show.)

Robert Jacobs plays Charlemagne with gruff authority and sings his solo "War is a Science" wonderfully. He has many comic one liners in the show including my favorite, "Lewis is an asshole". However the three scene stealers in this show are Mary O'Donnell as Berthe , Charlemagne feisty mother, Linda Goetz as Fastrada, his evil wife and Jordan Greeley as Lewis their stupid son. Mary who has a fantastic soprano voice, sings the audience participation song, "No Time at All" where she tells Pippin how to enjoy his life because she certainly did. She makes the most of her time onstage and ends the number in a fantastic kickline with her 4 talented boys. Linda is a scream as the evil queen who reminds you of Cruella DeVille in red. Linda is a sexy, statuesque gal who oozes with charm and her "Spread a Little Sunshine" displays her dancing and singing ability. Her one liners are humorous, too. Jordan makes the role of Lewis into a hilarious comic romp with his madcap ad libs and his being able to play a stupid, dummy and making his lewd and lascivious behavior laugh out loud moments every time he utters a line. His comic dance in Linda's song is a hoot, too. ( Most of the time Lewis disappears into the background but Jordan makes certain that it doesn't happen in this version.) The other talented performers in the show are Aoife Barrington-Haber, Kai Chao, Kevane Coleman, Stephanie Davis, Donald Gregorio, Lindsey Taylor Pribble and Tony Houck as well as the previously mentioned Joshua Kaufman. So for a splendid look back on the crazy and wacky happenings in the time of Charlemagne, be sure to catch "Pippin" at Turtle Lane Playhouse.

Addendum to PIPPIN review by Tony Annicone

( I returned to Turtle Lane Playhouse on Sunday to see the three alternate actors in "Pippin". Playing the Leading Player at this show is Steve Gagliastro. He captures the deviousness and slickness of the character perfectly with his strong acting skills and delivers his songs dynamically with his tenor voice, sounding like Judas from Jesus Christ Superstar. Gary Ryan gives a strong portrayal of Pippin, fleshing out the character's growth from naive boy into a decisive man. His tenor voice sells all his numbers but he sounds best in "Morning Glow" and his interactions with the other characters is wonderful. Also outstanding is the pathos Gary captures in his last song where he moves the audience to tears at Pippin's final predicament. Last but not least is Nolan Murphy as Theo. This young boy's role may not be large but he delivers his funny lines like a well seasoned pro and his strong singing of "Corner of the Sky" at the close of the show is another feather in his cap, having sung The Star Spangled Banner in Turtle Lane's "Damn Yankees". Bravo to all three actors on a job very well done.)

"Pippin" (6 July - 14 August)
TURTLE LANE PLAYHOUSE
283 Melrose Street, NEWTON MA
1 (617) 244-0169

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