“WE’VE GOT MAGIC TO DO, GOT TO FIND MY CORNER IN THE SKY”, PIPPIN IS A SPIRITED COMING
OF AGE MUSICAL WITH A JAZZ HANDS CAST.
There is magic this Spring on the Julia Morgan stage in a smart production of PIPPIN the Musical. The Berkeley Playhouse production is now on stage through May 5th. PIPPIN is a Tony Award-winning musical with a keen pop score with nearly twenty musical numbers. First staged in 1972 with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (Godspell and Wicked) with a book by Roger O. Hirson. Bob Fosse directed the original Broadway production during the post Watergate era when the Vietnam war was about to end. The subtext of the 70’s is easy to cross to this coming of age story, it was a new form of a musical, Fosse and Schwarz were changing the look of Broadway.
“This is one of my absolute favorite shows and I'm thrilled to bring together some of the strongest actors and creative minds in the Bay Area to help me bring it to life,” says Executive Director and Producer Kimberly Dooley who is also the director of PIPPIN. “As a student of physical theatre who began their career as a choreographer, Pippin is one of my all time favorite show - this ragtag troupe of storytellers uses all their powers of dazzle and deception to weave together a story about ambition, fame, power and love, and whether the “search for meaning” in all it’s well-intentioned sincerity, is misguided or not" says Dooley.
Founding Artistic Director Elizabeth McKoy says “Fitting with the mission of Berkeley Playhouse, Pippin is a show that encourages audiences to think critically and reflects on what's happening in our society today. This exuberant and powerful story echoes some very real realities that young people are facing as they navigate this complicated world we live in.” McKoy says PIPPIN has surprises at every corner “It rejects formulaic musical comedy and infuses a coming of age story that remind us how powerful life is.”
Dooley has cast some of the Bay Area’s best as the players in this classic fable, including the showstopping TBA and SFBATCC honored Alex Rodequez, who plays the lead Player. He opens the show with the classic “Magic To Do” with his Fosse swagger. Choreographer Allison Padaiso and Dooley blend in that Fosse style, but they both add their own original dance to the many numbers including the Hoop dance elements. Schwartz iconic songs such as "Corner of the Sky," “Spread a Little Sunshine”, “Simple Joys”and "Extraordinary," keep this musical heartwarming yet still adding a dark edge. Pippin is both a humorous fable about growing up and a dark tale of the danger of empty promises.
Magical, mysterious and always intriguing, this has that Shakespeare "play within a play" style and it challenges us to consider the meaning of life and what it means to live extraordinarily. “We've got magic to do Join us, come and waste and hour or two Doodle-ee-doo” sings the Lead Player.
The Story is simple with some surprises as a troupe of players enters the stage, led by the enigmatic Rodriguez. The lead player tells the story of Pippin played by the enthusiastic Kamren Mahaney. The young prince opens with the song “Corner of the Sky” with the classic Schwartz line “Rivers belong where they can ramble”. Mahaney shows off his stellar voice and carries all solos like a polished pro as the young prince Pippin's tale begins. He returns home from his studies certain that he will find a fulfilling purpose in life.
As he sets off on adventures through war, love and politics, he is guided by the cunning hand of the Leading Player who influences him in challenging tasks. Along the way we encounter Pippin's father, the tyrant, King Charlemagne, played by the skilled Brendan Simon. Mahaney and Simon sing “War is Science” as Pippin asks his dad to fight in his next war. The two have great stage charm and show off their rousing voices.
The King’s scheming wife, Fastrada, is played by the terrific Mary Katlita, who is sharp in the role as she sometimes taunts and teases the audience. Katlita sings “Spread a Little Sunshine” along with the marvelous Neal Pasca who steals the show as Pippin’s brother, Lewis. “So put down the vinegar, take up the honey jar you'll catch many more flies” says Pascua as he swaggers on stage pushing the comic fun over the top to the audience’s delight.
Pippin's kindly grandmother Berthe is played by the gifted Mary Gibboney who sings the classic hit from PIPPIN “No Time At All”. Gibboney is a delight with her saucy attitude encouraging Pippin to find himself and live before it is too late. Her energy and engaging the audience is super as she sings Schwartz iconic line “It's time to start living.” The history of this song includes the iconic Irene Ryan who suffered a stroke after a performance in New York. Andra Martin also comes to mind who recently played Granny in the national tour. Gibboney and Mahaney are the perfect pair for this engaging production.
Mahaney as Pippin moves fluidly as a dancer, but it is his voice and acting that brings a sharp proud innocence as he learns growing up is hard to do. Rodriguez as Lead Player and this “jazz hands” theater troupe has amazing swager in the dance “Manson Trio” that has a Fosse flair, yet Choreographer Paraiso did her own take with some light hat and cane magic. Rodriguez is also a charming, self-assured presence throughout the show; his dancing is always impeccable.
The exceptional Anne Clark is Catherine, a widow with a son, is seeking a better life who falls for Pippin then puts up with his quirky nature. Clark brings a quiet demeanor to her role, a woman ultimately not to be discarded by a once distracted boy. Her sweet soprano voice brought a hush to the week night Berkeley audience with “I Guess I’ll Miss the Man.”
Simon as Pippin’s dad has a strong presence with his resonant baritone voice. Lewis in his father's shadow wants that throne someday; Pascua’s over the top camp performance is hilarious, and his shenanigans are always welcomed as he enters the story as more of a Queen than a Prince. It is wonderful to finally see local favorite Pascua who is very popular on Bay Area stages in a feature role. I admire his work for both Broadway By the Bay and the Berkeley Playhouse.
The cast also includes two young players Elijah Cooper and Cameron Zener who rotate in the role of Theo, Catherine’s son. His duck and snide bites take Pippin by surprise, and Lyle Barrere’s clever sound design brings the bird alive.
The full throttle Jordan Covington, Carlos Guerrero, Cindy Head, Rune Lauridsen, Ava Maag, Anthony Maglio, Lucca Troutman, Brianna Grey Rodriguez, Dian Sitip Meechai and the high stepping Megan McGrath fill out the rest of the impressive cast.
The stand out music direction is by in-house MD Michael Patrick Wiles with an eight member orchestra that brings the magic to the two and half hour musical. The Bob Fosse original choreography was only a hint as Paraiso and Dooley bring their own vision to these 20 hit numbers. The set design by the clever Kristen Royston is a “stage within a stage” with a second level that keeps the Players climbing. The set opens and folds and expands with ease and includes an awesome Throne.
The lighting design by Jeff Rowlings is especially appealing in Act II as a his fire effect is created for one of the more darker themes in the story. I liked the drapes of lights and the back glow in the black box second stage, a sure highlight that added to the gothic feel to the Kingdom. The costume team brought some goth lingerie look to the players with wonderful heels for the Head Player. Lewis and the King wore gold robes designed by the award winning Liza Danz. The Assistant costume designer kept Pippin in silver white tones and Queen Fastrada wore some wonderful green gowns.
Catherine’s and other wigs were designed by the stylish Lexie Lazear, who created a sharp eye makeup for each player. Assistant Director Weston Scott help keep the space busy for Dave Maier’s many fight and sword battles. Props were busy with swords, canes and the classic top hats and, of course, a duck. Stage manager Liz Johnson with her crew Natalia Kazimi and Matt Quarless have to keep a cast of 20 moving on and off stage, and the smooth sets in place. Royston’s set has to fold up at the end of the story and create a bare stage look. With the famous Ghost light as the only set piece, it worked well as young Theo brings a tear to the final applause.
Director Dooley keeps the show busy and the flow and energy of Players is joyful. The cast is high-spirited, animated, and all talented. The Berkeley Playhouse PIPPIN takes to heart this theme; “I’ve got to be where my spirit can run free. Got to find my corner of the sky.” Next up at BPH is the Northern California premiere of BIG The Musical that opens this summer June 21. The new Season has been announced and it includes NEWSIES that will open June of 2020. But in the meantime “Leave your cheese to sour and come and waste an hour or two Doo-dle-ee-do” PIPPIN is the perfect spring break.
Berkeley Playhouse Presents:
Book by Roger O. Hirson
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Original Choreography by Bob Fosse
Directed by Kimberly Dooley
Music Director Michael Patrick Wiles
Choreographer Allison Paraiso
Founding Artistic Director Elizabeth McKoy
Must Close May 5th
PERFORMED AT THE JULIA MORGAN CENTER
COLLEGE AVE, BERK CA
Runs Two hours 30 min with one intermission
Tickets at berkeleyplayhouse.org
Photos by Ben Krantz Studio.
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