Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Pippin"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

entire contents copyright 2010 by Tony Annicone


Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Rhode Island College Theatre's current show is the musical, "Pippin" which opened on Broadway on October 23, 1972,closed June 12,1977 and ran for 1,944 performances. It is a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Roger O. Hirson. Bob Fosse directed the original Broadway production which 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 and escapades 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 by listening to the advice of his sexpot stepmother, Fastrada. But after trying to rule his empire for a short time discovers it is more difficult that he thought and brings his father back to life and since the show is an anachronistic fairy tale anything can happen. Pippin then tries different careers, failing at all of them 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 Bill Wilson 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 fantastic dancers to give it the powerhouse presentation it deserves.

Bill not only casts this show very well but he blocks it wonderfully, making sure everyone is seen at all times. He pays close attention to the characterizations presented by his students in this show, making them come alive for current day audiences and sets the show as the Charlemagne Revue, a Las Vegas extravaganza with an enormous twelve step staircase up stage center.(When I reviewed URI's production of this show 10 years ago they presented it as if they were casting a movie.) Bill mixes the comic and poignant moments together perfectly. Anthony Torelli is the musical director with Stephen DeCesare on the lead keyboards. Anthony conducts his topnotch 12 piece orchestra. The dance numbers choreographed by Angelica Vesella include many Fosse signature dances including tap, jazz, marching, a kick-line Her youthful cast executes them perfectly. The colorful set is by Robert T. Williams while the inventive and unique lighting is by Alan Pickart. The multitude of gorgeous costumes are by Charlotte Dunning Burgess with the coronation robe as a standout as well as the show girl costumes.. Stage manager Molly Kaufhold keeps things running smoothly backstage and onstage all night long. Bill uses a filmed sequence to introduce Pippin to the audience called "The Life and Times of Pippin" created by Patrick Bosworth.

The cast is lead by Naysh Fox as Pippin. With his blond hair and blue eyes, he looks like William Katt who did the DVD version of this show back in 1981. Naysh's acting prowess comes through in this role by his energetic and sympathetic portrayal. His gorgeous tenor voice soars in all his songs including "Corner of the Sky" where he starts his journey to find meaning in his life, a verse in "War Is a Science" where he jumps up to start the battle with the barbarians, "With You" where he discovers sex during a dance orgy, "Morning Glow" where he finally becomes king only to discover it isn't as easy as it appears, "Extraordinary" where he plugs his own self importance and "Love Song", a duet with Catherine where he finally finds meaning in his life. Naysh makes the naive prince grow up quickly in the barbaric world around him and is a joy to watch in this role. I previously reviewed him as Will Parker in "Oklahoma'' in 2008. Joe Nicastro is spectacular as the Leading Player. He captures the deviousness and the slickness of this character. The show opens with the Leading Player inviting the audience to join the performers in a story about a boy prince searching for fulfillment in "Magic To Do" where Joe and 14 other dancers swirl around the stage in a show stopping dance number while the chorus wears white glow in the dark gloves. His other songs include "Glory" where he leads the troupe in a mock battle. The song is about the horrors of the Vietnam protest when it was written back in 1972 , and "On the Right Track" with Naysh which he inspires Pippin to find his way in life with the both of them performing an excellent jazz dance while doing so.His dialogue with the entire cast, controlling scenes of Pippin and his argument scenes with Catherine are first rate, too. I first reviewed Joe when he was little Patrick Dennis in "Auntie Mame" in 2001 and I directed him in "Caught in the Net" at the Newport Playhouse in 2005. Derek Capobianco who has a dynamite tenor voice sings "Simple Joys" with the ensemble doing a country western dance. The song is about Pippin heading out into the country to visit his grandmother.

Frank Toti plays Charlemagne with gruff authority. His character has an eye for the pretty girls. Frank sings his solo "War is a Science" with the chorus doing a splendid dance to it. He also has many funny one liners including my favorite "Lewis is an asshole". Marissa Silva is a sexy vamp as Fastrada, Charlemagne's evil second wife. She keeps plotting and planning to take over the kingdom for her dimwitted, barbaric son, Lewis. Marissa belts out "Spread A Little Sunshine" with her fantastic voice while doing a sexy dance up and down the massive stairway. Her many one liners constantly hit paydirt. She wears a sexy dress as Fastrada. I recently reviewed her as Lucy in "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" for Bay Colony Productions last August. Adriano Cabral is a hoot as Lewis, the egotistical son who loves himself. He does a wonderful job playing the stupid dummy who loves to make war. His crazy antics are laugh out loud moments in the show. Talia Triangelo is a gorgeous redhead and is one of the biggest scene stealers in this show as Berthe. She does a bit of a Cher impersonation at times and sings the interactive audience participation number "No Time at All". Talia also gets to strut her stuff in a country western number with her singers and dancers. Her number stops the show with her message to Pippin to enjoy life because she still does at her advanced age. Shayna Eisemann plays Catherine. She is a pretty brunette with a powerful voice. She knocks your socks off with her songs, "Kind of Woman" where she sings about being an ordinary woman while she tries to seduce Pippin, "Love Song" which she sings with Naysh where they finally admit their love and "I'll Guess I'll Miss the Man", a gorgeous, earnest ballad where she laments their break up when Pippin decides to leave her which is my favorite song in the show. Shayna is dynamic as she stands up to the bullying of the leading player.Zack Albro, a 9 year old plays her son, Theo. He wins the sympathy of the audience with Otto, his duck. He tries to help Pippin recover from his despair by yelling at him, praying for his duck and in his final solo song "Corner of the Sky" to the audience. This little boy handles the role with ease. Kudos to the entire talented cast on a job well done. So for a trip back to the days of Charlemagne, be sure to catch "Pippin" before it dances out of town. (I was lucky enough to catch "Pippin" on Broadway in 1974 with John Rubenstein and Ben Vereen on his last night as The Leading Player in the show.)

"Pippin" (22 - 25 April)
@ Roberts Auditorium, 600 Mount Pleasant Avenue, PROVIDENCE RI

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide