Pippin, the Tony Award-winning musical, written by Roger O. Hirson with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, dazzled Broadway audiences in the '70s and a talented cast is delighting audiences today with a season opening production at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre. Schwartz's timeless and captivating score provides ample opportunities for stellar vocals and jazzy, Bob Fosse-style dance moves, giving the show magical flair.
Originally conceived as a student musical, Pippin essentially is a coming-of-age story. Bored with formal education and the royal court, Charlemagne's first-born son yearns for an "extraordinary" life, seeking excitement and, above all, meaning. It is a classic tale of a young man traveling the world only to find true happiness back home.
Pippin is staged as a play within a play. When a caravan of circus performers arrives, led by the foxy Leading Player (Jessica Mixon), they easily lure the naive Pippin (Patrick Thomas Cragin) with promises of exotic adventure. A simple piano introduction expands into a thrilling opening number ("Magic To Do") tempting Pippin into a swirl of lights and color as jugglers, dancers and a fantastic aerialist (Gretchen Ernst) create the illusion of magic. These characters become players in Pippin's life story.
Mixon is a showman, wearing a straw hat, black boots with a perpetually devilish smile. Her first adventure for Pippin takes place at the battlefront with his half-brother, veteran soldier Lewis (Alex Martinez Wallace), Queen Fastrada's (Trina Beck) favorite. The Leading Player hands Pippin a sword as the brothers prepare to fight the Visigoths, but it becomes apparent there is no glory in war. The Leading Player fiendishly laughs over the dead, saying, "You ain't seen nothin' yet." Tap dancing soldiers wearing straw hats, spats and gas masks depict war as entertainment, and the king bellows, "Now we rape and sack."
Disdainful about the way his tyrannical father (Louis Dudoussat) runs the country, Pippin believes he could do better. After trying his hand at ruling, however, he finds that even less inspiring.
Discouraged, Pippin retreats to his charming grandmother Berthe (Beverly Trask), who advises him to live in the moment. "Now don't take life so seriously. Just take things as they come along," she says. Berthe sings and dances about enjoying life, urging the audience to sing along in "No Time at All."
Pippin ultimately finds satisfaction in family. The commonplace, "average" woman he meets turns out to be quite exceptional. Catherine's (Meredith Owens) sweet demeanor and lovely voice, manifests in "Kind of Woman" and "Love Song."
Le Petit compensates for its lack of high-tech production with colorful costuming, vibrant choreography and a live orchestra led by music director Natalie True. At times Cragin struggles to hit high notes, but he aptly portrays a young man searching for his destiny. Director Tom Cianfichi elicits excellent performances from the wonderfully expressive and agile Beck, Dudoussat, Wallace and Henry Morse (Theo), making Pippin a delightful diversion that's especially appropriate for young audiences.