URI Theatre's current production of "Pippin", the story of Charlemagne's son is given an updated storyline by author Stephen Schwartz. Taken from the Papermill production, the new plot is a movie version of the show being shot in present time. The multitalented cast of 26 is led by director, Paula McGlasson, music director, Lila Kane and choreographer, Michelle Gonya. The leading player (Andrew Lidestri) is now a movie director who choses Pippin from the videos shown before the show. Pippin (Michael Backes) wins the role and the actual play begins with sensational singing, dancing and acting by the ensemble.
Paula casts her leads and the whole cast perfectly. The blocking and acting is handled very well by the college students and other cast members with moving platforms flying in and out almost constantly. The show moves along from one scene to another. ( the only exceptions in the new script are the overuse of cut and action by the movie director which distracts from some of the scenes.) Lila's choral work and lead musical instruction is outstanding and really shines in the harmonic quality"Magic To Do" and "Morning Glow". Michelle's use of fresh non Fosse type dancing is a breath of fresh air in this show. The video of her teaching Michael the pas de burre movements are very funny but it is the movement of a huge cast in the group numbers which stands out. The other collaborators who make the show successful are scenic designer, Christian Wiitwer, multitudes of costumes by David Howard and the be! autiful lighting by Sean Sliney. (Sean kept the audience aware of the change from movie to theatre location)
Michael Backes as Pippin is a joy to watch and listen to. This talented young man has a fantastic tenor voice which soars in "Corner of the Sky", "With You" and "Extraordinary" (dancing like Elvis and doing splits as he sings it). He plays the ordinary man perfectly. Michael's reactions especially in "With You" when he sings about each new girl he meets is a frenzy of sexual lust and desire by all nine people.The girls are in prom dresses with the men in tuxes and they all change into go go dancers in a split second. Splendid scene. Michael plays the serious moments well in "Love Song" duet and the closing song of the show when his voice is filled with such sorrow he leaves the audience teary eyed. He is a very talented performer with a bright future in the theatre world.
Andrew Lidestri commands the stage as the leading player. He is dressed like Che from Evita without the fatigues. His strong acting ability comes through in his dialogue with the whole cast. Andrew dances as well as he acts and sings especially in the soft shoe number with two girls during the killing scene and the men in "Simple Joys". His argument scenes with Catherine and his controlling of the Pippin character is excellent, too. A wonderful performance.
Daniel Houle as Charlemagne plays the part with the right amount of gruff authority but also with an eye for the pretty ladies. He sings "War Is a Science" about the beauty of battle and leads the chorus in an energetic dance during it. He has many good facial expressions and line delivery. His evil second wife, Fastrada is played by Heidi Beckman ( a sexy statuesque redhead) and their bloodthirsty dimwitted son, Lewis is played by Kevin Traver. Heidi oozes sexuality and her tango with Lewis during her "Spread a Little Sunshine" number is superb. Kevin is very funny as the egotistical son who loves his muscles. Both performers brighten up the stage during all their scenes.
An extremely comic performances is given by Anita Cipolla as Berthe, Charlemagne's Miami Beach costumed mother. She steals the show in her "No Time at All'" number, an interactive song with the audience and her boys while convincing Pippin to enjoy life. Anita is a very experienced actress who handles both comic and dramatic roles with ease. The character's entrance in a truck and her exit on a tall moving ladder type stairway are highlights in this scene. Two other fabulous stars of this show are Joanna Lynn Beecher as Catherine, Pippin's girlfriend and fifth grade student, Colin Taggart as her son, Theo. Joanna has a lovely voice belting out"Ordinary Kind of Woman"(while Michael puts the pillow over his ears and hides under her bed), "Love Song" (with romantic mood lighting) and my favorite "I Guess I'll Miss the Man" (in which she laments their breakup moving the crowd to tears.) She also shows str! ength in her scenes with the leading player by standing up to his bullying her and she shows her warm side in the scenes with Theo and Pippin. Young actor Colin makes the most of his limited stage time, playing the comic and death of the duck scenes, the humiliation scene (where Theo, Catherine and Pippin's costumes, lighting and props are taken away) and his final song, "Corner of the Sky". He sings this verse a cappella and the tremor in his voice shows what a fine dramatic performer this young actor is. Great job, Colin.
Rounding out this cast are some super talented dancers. (It is rare to find excellent male dancers but URI has them.) The18 chorus members are Beckley Andrews, Matthew Archambault, Kathleen Aroraci, Jimmy Caltri, Angel Castro, Amanda Clayton, Adam Crowe, Donald Dallaire, Sarah Autumn Feeley, Doug Geller, Elizabeth Gotauco, Ryan P. Kenny, (who is the male dancer in the sex dance ballet scene which is hysterical) Addie Lepore, Sarah Elida Mills, Melanie Morrisey, Nicole Polzella,Jeff Smith and Adam Wasserman. Wonderful job in playing all the numerous roles. Kudos to one and all who made this high energy show a success. The orchestra did a great job with a difficult score. I am looking forward to more good work from URI later this season.