Pippin – Review by Marlene S. Gaylinn

Summer Theatre of New Canaan (STONC) is presenting “Pippin,” a unique, pip of a production. This show is also a unique, family enterprise, co-directed by Allegra and Christian Libonati, the talented offspring of Artistic Director Melody, and her PR husband, Ed Libonati.

This coming of age fantasy takes place during the Holy Roman Empire (780 A.D.). “Pippin,” the fictionalized son of Charlemagne, the French king who conquered most Europe in the name of Christianity, has just graduated from college and is searching for something meaningful in his life. He encounters a group of street performers, and their “Leading Player” who takes him on a magical journey where he uncovers the hypocritical elements of his world. In the end, we come to realize that human nature has not changed since ancient history. The seeking of power (kings had more of it than the Pope), politics and group thinking (resulting in barbaric wars), morality, sexual preferences, marriage, compromise, and finally, the elusive meaning of love and life remains with us today.

The original show appeared on Broadway in 1972 and won 5 Tony Awards. The book is by Roger O. Hirson with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Director/choreographer, Bob Fosse added his input to the storyline. Ben Vereen was the, “Leading Player.” He appeared in TV ads for the Broadway production, and influenced many others that followed his tapping footsteps.

Without a doubt, the unpopular Vietnam War, and the free-living Hippies of the 60’s influenced the characters and numerous symbolisms contained in the original musical. Today’s new generations might appreciate the symbolic meanings even more if they knew what to compare it with. Unfortunately, there are no program notes to help with understanding Pippin’s creative imagination. However, to give you a hint about searching through your own mysterious mind, there is a Labyrinth on the stage floor. The audience is encouraged walk its paths and instructions are in the program. If this does not work, get yourself a deck of Tarot Cards.

The “Leading Player/Magician” in STONC’s version of Pippin is the charismatic, Melissa Victor. She may not sing like Ben Vareen or dance in the same jazzy-style as Bob Fosse, but she shines brightly in a way all her own. Young and handsome, Zach Schanne plays the charming but brooding “Pippin/The Fool.” Janell Robinson plays “Berthe/Star,” Pippin’s delightful, old grandma who enjoys being sexually provocative towards her grandson in the number, “No Time At All.”” Frank Mastrone is the perplexed, yet powerful King Charlemagne.

Bob Fosse’s, jazzy, sexy suggestiveness has been toned down in Doug Shankman’s choreography. However, some very sexy gyrations remain and the dances and dancers are mesmerizing. Orli Nativ’s costumes are spectacular, Brad Lee’s inventive set magically unfolds and disappears on cue, and the live orchestra under the direction of Kenneth Gartman makes you want to dance and “Spread a Little Sunshine.” This production’s ambiguous ending may frustrate you – but hey, “that’s life!
Plays to July 28 Tickets: 203-966-4634

This review appears in “On CT and NY Theatre” July/2019

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