‘Pippin’: Filled with entertainment, but nothing more

Meredith Shea

“Pippin,” a musical by Roger O. Hirson and Stephen Schwartz, opened last Friday at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre  under the direction of Eric Rosen. Traditionally, “Pippin” productions keep the original 70’s pop style musical score, but Rosen had a different vision for his production: punk rock.

The fourth wall is immediately broken with this in-your-face rock concert production. Throughout the show, the ensemble continuously transforms into characters in the play.

First, the audience sees the Leading Player (Wallace Smith), who introduces Pippin (Claybourne Elder), a young prince searching for fulfillment in life.  To prove himself, Pippin begs his father, Charlemagne (John Hickock), for permission to fight alongside him in the war against the Visigoths.  Pippin clearly does not fit in with the other soldiers, including his half-brother Lewis (Sam Cordes), but fights anyway.

In “Glory,” the war scene, the production is at its best, combining precise and challenging militaristic choreography by Chase Brock, chilling vocals by Wallace and ensemble and spectacle that exceed expectations.  Microphone stands are used as guns, strobe lights flicker every time a soldier fires and fog machines top off the experience.

However, the acting was less than desired since the performance included Broadway stars from New York.  Elder successfully embodied Pippin’s appearance and had a great voice, but lacked a deeper connection to other players onstage.  It made the production feel “showy” rather than honest.

UMKC MFA Acting alumnus Katie Gilchrist offered the show’s most genuine performance with her portrayal of Catherine.  Catherine stumbles upon Pippin at his lowest and is immediately attracted to him by the arch in his foot.  Gilchrist’s presence encouraged a stronger performance from Elder, and it is enjoyable watching them work together onstage.

The most entertaining scene is with Berthe (Mary Testa), Pippin’s grandmother.  Pippin returns home from war and visits her.  She is an exaggerated, over the top woman and hilarious to watch.  In “No Time At All,” Berthe sings, “Oh, it’s time to start livin’, time to take a little from this world we’re given,” encouraging Pippin not to be so serious.

The KC Rep designers are at the top of their game.  The lighting design by Jason Lyons is incredible to experience, at times blinding for effect and serves as a necessary piece of the punk rock musical.  Though “Pippin” has a permanent set, the stage is easily transformed to allow actors to enter and exit through a trap door or interact with the onstage band on a moveable platform.  Scenery constantly flies in and out from above the stage to set the scene.

“Pippin” offers pure entertainment, but do not expect to be emotionally moved in any way by this production.  The show runs through Oct. 7, and tickets for UMKC students start at $10.

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