Monday, April 29, 2019

review - PIPPIN - Fountain Hills Theater

Lacey Dixon, Skyler Washburn and Kathi Osborne
Photo by Stephanie Tippi Hart
by Carolyn Thomas

The play-within-a-play format still continues to thrive in theatre, and for good reason. With a unique take on the setting, placing the 'players' in a movie studio in the golden age of film, there's no lack of creativity in Fountain Hills Theater's production of Pippin. Still, creativity alone isn't always enough. While there are a few standouts in the cast curious, the sets and costumes are often confusing, but ultimately (and most importantly), the heart of the show comes through in the end.

Originating in 1972, Pippin boasts music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, well before his Wicked fame, a book by Roger O. Hirson, and was originally directed by Bob Fosse, who also contributed to the liberetto. Fosse's influence on the show is undeniable. Choreographer Jenny Lynne Iverson keeps the dancing very true to its source, though unfortunately at the cost of clean execution. The choreography in this production works best when at its simplest.

Pippin presents a delightful challenge as a production, and offers many opportunities for designers to play. Pippin, a young prince, yearns to be "Extraordinary" and pursues greatness in his life, but struggles to find his place in the world. He is a player in a group of actors, but the lines between Pippin's story and the players' begin to blur.

Director Peter J. Hill's choice to set his players in a movie studio during the golden age of film provides his designers with many places to shine, though the bold choices made don't always benefit the overall experience. This production fortunately uses the revised 1998 ending, coined by Mitch Sebastian, which gives a more satisfying conclusion to the show when compared to the original version. Noël Irick's costume designs take advantage of the chance to play, but reach far into many directions to the point of confusion. At the start, the plethora of vests, bow-ties, and androgyny are charming and fresh to the palette. We're whisked into the Middle Ages, but the costumes don't all seem to agree on what time period they're in and this continues as the show progresses. The only unifying threads are Pippin himself and the Leading Player, but even The Leading Player seems out of any time or place, despite the other players staying firmly rooted in their golden age of film when not part of the 'show'. There are many lovely, exciting costume pieces, and the hair and makeup by Gina Hoyt compliment the costumes.

Skylar Ponmai Washburn, as Pippin, brings a youthful exuberance and a bright, clean voice to the title character. Noël Irick grabs the audience as soon as she takes the throne as Berthe. She embodies everyone's favorite sassy grandmother with flair, and blends into her other, smaller roles with ease. The choice of casting a woman as The Leading Player is a delightful one, though not original since the Broadway revival also cast a woman in the part, and Kathi Osborne brings flavor to the role, though that flavor comes off a little packaged. Lacey Dixon is enjoyable as Catherine, the kindly widow, but few other actors stand out from the cast in this production.

Ultimately, the creative direction taken with Fountain Hills Theater's Pippin outshines the production itself. I stand by the idea that taking a risk in theatre is always worth doing, and can find little fault in the bold approach to this musical, only in the execution. Bravo for going bold.

CLICK HERE for more information on this production, which runs through May 5

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