THEATER REVIEWS

THEATER REVIEW – PIPPIN

 

 

PIPPIN

Before I get to the actual show, indulge a memory or two with me about the importance Pippin has had in my life.   When Sister Joanne Pastori, our Principal, brought Sal Rendina to Sacred Heart Private School’s faculty to teach music, she opened up a world of possibilities for a lot of us. She was a visionary, a true educator, who understood that the arts were an important part of a well rounded curriculum and more importantly of a well rounded educational experience.   We always had music in elementary school..But most of it was liturgical (I still hear echoes of “Sons of God, “ Take Our Bread,” and “Immaculate Mary.”) Sister Carol Sansone introduced us to the music of the St. Louis Jesuits, but it was Sal who took it all a step beyond, perfecting the hymns with his students.

Sal was a true pioneer. He was adept at church music but he also spent time bringing Broadway to life in the classroom. His repertoire of vocal selection books included Cabaret, Fiddler on the Roof, Mame and of course, Pippin. In 1974, he led the school to its first show in about four years and not since John Viti and Hugh Walsh rolled out the barrel in lederhosen, were we that excited. Paul Mileo (RIP) opened that show with ‘Wilkommen’ from Cabaret, and we all sang ‘Magic to Do’ from Pippin, hands and all. Donna D’Ambrosio, who had the voice of a songbird, sang ‘Married’, also from Cabaret.

Lisa Lo Cascio and I were scheduled to sing ‘No Time At All,’ from Pippin. We rehearsed daily and fell in love with the song. We were good…we were VERY GOOD. But during the last rehearsal, Sister Carol really listened to the lyrics – “and watching your flings be flung all over, makes me feel young all over, in just No Time At All.” And in an instant, they were deemed too risqué, and the number was cut, forever.. and Lisa and I never got to sing it. No offense to Sister Carol, as it was only 1974. We should have stuck with ‘Sixteen Going on Seventeen,’ from The Sound of Music – after all, she still thinks I am her Rolf and she will always be my Liesl.

Perhaps as a true Catholic, I was supposed to suffer that disappointment as it seemed to actually solidify my love for Pippin. I gained an admiration and love for this show from then on – so much so that when I graduated high school, my cake was inscribed with “May you find your ‘Corner of the Sky’, but I digress.

The only production of this show that I had seen was a video done in the early 1980s with Ben Vereen, William Kaat, Chita Rivera and Martha Raye. However, the original cast recording is forever etched in my mind and so when the first ever revival was announced, I was more excited than one can imagine. The only downside to this was that it took me almost a year to actually see it. I am so glad that I did. It is spectacular.

So the play…Pippin is the son of Charlemagne and the show focuses around his search for something deeper – the meaning of life. The show is narrated by the leading player and the characters in clued Pippin’s father, Charlemagne, his step mother, Fastrada, his grandmother Berthe, Catherine, the older widowed woman and his step brother Louis.   It is set in medieval times, with a Cirque de Soleil feel with acrobats and dancers moving across the stage and throughout all the songs…so where to begin.

Kyle Dean Massey was born to play Pippin. Although not the original, he is handsome, talented and really understands the plight of the lost boy. He evokes innocence and maturity at the same time. His ‘Corner of the Sky’ is masterfully done and his confusion over his search is really wonderful as exhibited when he sings ‘Extraordinary.’

The lead player role won a Tony for Patina Miller. Her replacement, Ciara Renee, is excellent in her narrator/director role – smartly performed by an absolutely beautiful woman whose vocal ability was brilliant.

Terrence Mann has been one of my favorite Broadway performers for the last thirty years and he did not disappoint in his role of Charlemagne. Dynamic and riveting are two descriptors that come to mind.

Rachel Rae Jones was simply beautiful as the vulnerable older widow, Catherine. Pretty, talented and perfect for the role, she exudes the simplicity of her character gracefully and her banter back and forth with the lead player was masterful.

My favorite song from the show, of course, is ‘No Time At All,’ which is sung by pippin’s grandmother, Bethe, played by the gorgeous Annie Potts from Designing Women fame. I admit, I was a tad nervous – can she sing? Can she do our song better than Lisa and I could have done it? Well, I was so happy that I shed a tear or two when she took over that theater with the song. It evoked a few memories and she sang with such spunk that you could not help but love her. The best part – well – two best parts – first it is a sing along so the audience joined in and I shouted out emphatically, especially when my line came…once risqué – and now so tame by comparison. “Watching your flings be flung all over…and I almost jumped out of my seat. The second best part, the real feat was the charming Annie Potts – in her 60’s – engaging in acrobatics that most 20 year olds cannot do. She is still stunningly beautiful and steals the show.

The show is well worth seeing and paying full price. I am only sorry it took me so long to get to see it ..but I am glad we did. Pippin is a five star production well worth the ticket price.  I always wonder if I would have had the same reaction if Sister Carol did not cut the number…and I guess I will never know…But— so many years later, a special thank you to Sister Joanne Pastori and Mr. Sal Rendina –always grateful for opening our eyes and lifting our voices.

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