Group: Kirkwood Theatre Guild
Venue: Robert Reim Theatre, 111 South Geyer
Dates: May 8, 9, 10
Tickets: $19; contact 314-821-9956
Story: King Charles the Great, aka Charlemagne, was a jolly old soul in the eighth century, ruling the Frankish empire comprised of what would become France and Germany, presiding over much of western and central Europe. He was a loyal and devout Catholic, supporting the pope both economically and militarily. He liked the womenfolk, too, according to Wikipedia, which attributes to him 20 children by 10 wives or concubines.
His oldest male offspring was one Pippin the Hunchback, about whom composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz wrote a 1972 musical that ran for more than 1,700 performances on Broadway. Pippin describes the efforts of the young prince to make his life "extraordinary" and meaningful in a tale told by a troupe of actors led by a Leading Player who regale their audience with an entertaining take on their medieval subject. The show’s focus swings back and forth between the period of Pippin’s story and the show being performed by the troupe.
Highlights: With Bob Fosse directing the original Broadway production, Pippin’s choreography showcases the signature Fosse style, a combination of smart, sassy and sexy that choreographer Taylor Pietz faithfully recreates, most notably on jazzy numbers such as the battle bit, Glory, and the erotic With You. Pippin, which is reminiscent of Schwartz’s earlier effort, Godspell, as well as such Fosse trademarks as Cabaret and Chicago, is a bold, splashy show for a community theater to attempt. The Kirkwood Theatre Guild presentation is largely successful, due in great part to the masterful direction by Tom Murray, who harnesses the energy from some fine performances and minimizes the weaknesses of the lesser talents.
Oddly, though, he has two actors portray the Leading Player as a duo. While Glenn Guillermo is OK, he is overshadowed consistently by Troy Turnipseed, who brings the customary menace and condescension to the part as well as some precise choreographed moves.
William Zachary Petry stands out as a refreshing and charming Pippin, epitomizing the show’s jaunty, upbeat style. Kent Coffel is amusing and entertaining as the boisterous Charlemagne, a loving dad if one not very interested in close personal conversations with his son. Anthony Hagan virtually steals the show as Pippin’s flamboyant and effeminate half-brother, Lewis, while Kristin Meyer does nicely as Pippin’s love interest, Catherine.
Parker Donovan is amusing as the widowed Catherine’s young son, Theo, and Delores Perlow has a grand time as Pippin’s exiled grandmother, Bertha. Sheila Jindela has a nice turn as Pippin’s conniving stepmother, Fastrada, self-described as "just a housewife and mother," who conspires to have Pippin kill his father, paving the way for Lewis to take command.
Other Info: Paul Westcott’s music direction is in smooth harmony with Murray’s direction of the stage action, enlivening such winning numbers as the opening Magic to Do and War Is a Science. The set design by Geoffrey Harris offers an unobtrusive background that accentuates the work of the performers, with some stylish lighting by John Taylor and Frank Lewis and some appropriately simple costumes by Cherol Daniels.
The large supporting ensemble cast, with varying degrees of success, includes Jennifer Ballew, Timothy Callahan, Priscilla Case, Courtney Gibson, Mike Hodges, Lauren Kistner, Natalie Kurz, Nancy Leahy, Matthew Lindquist, Jeanette Remines and Megan Vickers.
Pippin is not the easiest work for a community theater to undertake, but under Murray’s sure guidance Kirkwood Theatre Guild’s effort is an amusing and winning one.
Rating: A 3.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.