Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
September 21, 2012
Coming of age is like playing dressup . You try on a bunch of outfits and see what works for you. If you believe Stephen Schwartz’s long-running 1972 musical, perhaps no one in history got into more getups than the first son of 8th century king Charlemagne.
You can’t blame “Pippin” for wanting to find “meaning and fulfillment” in his life, but he’s such a kvetchy milquetoast on his journey. He tries soldiering, but is disgusted by the pointless charade of war. Then he decides to become king, dabbling in patricide and regicide to get there. But when he unwittingly turns into a tyrant, he realizes that you can’t change society. Next, he experiments with art, religion and sexual excess. But nothing satisfies this depressive malcontent, who feels that he should be living an extraordinary life.
The fruitless quest is manipulated by the Leading Player, who commands a ragtag band of actors. But Pippin boldly breaks from this puppetmaster’s plan. Instead of flaming out in a blaze of glory, he decides to settle down to an ordinary life, realizing that the love of a good woman is all he needs. After he finally bonds with the young son of the lovely widow, that boy wanders off to begin the cycle all over again.
“Pippin” is a weird hybrid of a show, part presentational, hippie-dippy meta-theater, part fable, part historical fiction, in the vein of Schwartz’s “ Godspell ,” but light-years from his mega-hit, “Wicked.” Problem is , this early musical isn’t serious or funny or deep enough to make it incisive. And the main character is awfully hard to like.
But the Diversionary Theatre production boasts a stellar array of artists, who punch up the play and make it relevant.
The wizardly director/choreographer James Vasquez imbues the piece with a decadent, post-modern vibe, replete with a nasty stepmother played deliciously in drag.
Music director Charlie Reuter gooses the ‘70s pop score, giving it the degenerate edge of “Cabaret,” executed by a great little band. Scenic designer Sean Fanning and costume designer Shirley Pierson, mega-talented SDSU alums, have deconstructed found objects to create a dark, raggedy world of denim and garters, fishnet and camo , armored breastplates and turret-gunner bustiers .
The leather-clad Leading Player, big-voiced, wide-eyed Courtney Corey, controls the storytelling, as her motley band, a wonderful bevy of comical performers, waltzes in and out of the action and the audience. Louis Pardo has the unenviable task of making Pippin watchable, if not likable, and he doesn’t consistently succeed. You kind of want to slap the young prince upside the head and tell him to Grow Up. Which is, pretty much, the whole point of this lightweight exercise. It may not have all the magic promised in the opening number, but the Diversionary production delivers the musical goods.
“Pippin” runs through October 14, at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights.
©2012 PAT LAUNER