Saturday, May 20, 2006

Pippin - The 5th Avenue Musical Theater Company

What matters most: the brief but eternal spotlight or a content and simple life? The struggle between the glitter and glamour of the star's life and the simple but sufficient existence of humble happiness is ages old, even as far back as Charlemagne. As Prince Pippin, Charlemagne's first-born son strugles to find his way in life and his true calling, the world seems to be running away more and more with each day. Try as he may, he can't seem to stop the evil or even slow down his own life and take each day at a time.

Stephen Schwartz's (Wicked, Children of Eden, Godspell, etc.) progression and development as a writer/composer of musical theater is clearly seen and heard in Pippin. Traces of his other musicals, each more unique than most composers can accomplish, can be ever so faintly noted in Pippin. Though the story is confusing and disjointed throughout the play, the very last moment ties it all together in a very poignant finale.

This production sported an extremely powerful cast and production team, making it quite a spectacle. Tom Sturge's set and lighting are extremely precise and beautiful while the costumes of Bradley Reed nearly steal the show on their own. The fly-in set pieces and functional wall surrounding the on-stage orchestra gives the audience a feeling that their world and the world of the play are very truly melding together. Pieces such as the transitioning ramp and fly-in sing-along board bring the audience into the story deeper and deeper as it progresses.

David Armstrong's work in the past directing many shows with the 5th Avenue and other major theater shines again in his direction of this cast. The talent pool is ripe for the picking and his work with each individual shines through into the precision of each moment. Clearly, though, no director can go anywhere without the cast as her/his vehicle. Keith Byron Kirk's outstanding work as the Leading Player is captivating and enticing throughout every moment he's on stage. Mimi Hines's portrayal of Berthe is just as powerful and excitingly fanciful.

Aside from the obvious markers of a show's quality, the way in which Pippin fits into our modern world subtle, but powerful. The references to war as a game for men to gain glory and gold and the not-to-subtle and pointed references to sexual orientation and expression provide a biting commentary on our society today. Armstrong's decisions in this are very well-founded and well-thought-through.

Though not a must-see, it is an entertaining show. If you can make it to the end without getting too lost, it's worth the journey.

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