Play review: ’Pippin’

MARQUETTE – Hot on the success of it several revivals and a National tour, Pippin is re-imagined for the Lake Superior Theatre Boathouse. Director David Dagenais’s thrilling concept was perfect for LST. Using every available space his version will leave you talking and singing long after the finale.

In most instances many people would be able to tell where staging and direction end and choreography begins But Jill Grundstrom and Dagenais work so well together that one flows into the other. I hope they collaborate again. The show is thrilling to watch and kudos to Grundstrom performing in one number. Dagenais and Grundstrom made it their own while savoring some Fosse-esque moments.

Packed with stunning music numbers from the award-winning composer Stephen Schwartz, also of Godspell and Wicked, Pippin is fast on its way to becoming one of the musical stage’s classics. The story follows the life of Pippin (Ethan Bott) son of King Charlemagne (Jeff Spencer) of The Holy Roman Empire. But the inquisitive Pippin eschews university to find his own “corner of the sky,” exploring the horrors of war and the pleasures of the flesh. He is accompanied by a statuesque but sinister Greek chorus and the Leading Player (Donovan Chambers), snake-charmer charismatic and wickedly persuasive. But when Pippin embraces sweet domesticity with the widow Catherine (Sara Parks) and her small son Theo (Antonio Stabile), the chorus of his subconscious is less than thrilled. Will he fulfill their wishes for a flawless yet fiery finale?

Given both the moxie it took from Pete and Peggy Frazier to prepare the Boathouse for their 16th summer season, with help from Breakfast Rotary and other volunteers, and support from patrons and local theatregoers, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Boathouse was sold-out when the cast of Pippin took the stage.

Bott is adorably indecisive as Pippin, with doofy charisma and a lovely, light voice. With an alluring grin, sure feet and nasty joie de vivre, Chambers makes a captivating Leading Player, channeling the spirit of original cast member and Tony winner Ben Vereen. Spencer’s Charlemagne is all blunt charm, spot on timing and vocal bravado and Park’s Catherine embodies the quintessential spunky romantic comedy heroine with ease. Fastrada, the wife of the King (Alex Marks) spread more than just a little sunshine with every note she sang and every rim shoot she exaggerated.

I have to add that this is one of the strongest casts to perform at LST to date. The flexible and fierce ensemble of Players alone is sheer perfection. With the likes of Laura Thompson, Ryan White, John Sarkala, Jill Vemullen and Monica Nordeen; who are known locally for playing leads, whose love of the art and commitment to the show are a wonder to hear and see, including Youth Theatre stand-outs Mallory Grugin and Hanna Numinen.

A highlight of the evening was the return to the stage of Forest Roberts Theatre professor Shelley Russell as the Granny Berte. Not only does Russell play the part to perfection but with delicate love and humor. No stranger to theatre, Russell is known for directing and playwrighting. Here’s hoping this jewel graces the stage again.

It’s not exaggerating to say that the Boathouse is a shoreline gem and a great addition to the Marquette community and Pippin offers an amazing sampling of what the summer will bring.

Pippin is fittingly about a young prince who isn’t sure what he wants to do with his life. He tries war, politics, and love. But the meaning of life eludes him. Finally he and we the audience, end up where we began and Pippin finds what he is looking for. And the answer is not New York, Las Vegas or Chicago. It’s right here in Marquette!

Do yourself and your family a favor. Join Them! PIPPIN runs July 9 – July 20 at 7:30PM Tickets are $15 for Adults, $12 senior/Students $7.50 Youth 14 and under. Tickets are available at any EZ ticket outlet or the concession stand the night of the show. Group rates are available. Call 227-1032 for more information.

Bobby Glenn Brown is a performer and director who has performed and toured throughout the U.S. He holds an MFA in Musical Theatre and is the current Pres. of the First Nighters Board for the Forest Roberts Theatre of NMU.