Toby's Dinner Theatre's production of the musical "Pippin" is an enjoyable evening's entertainment. The play's strength is largely attributable to a strong supporting cast of colorful characters. Although lead Rob McQuay as Pippin performs the part more than adequately, he is far surpassed by the performances of the rest of the cast.
"Pippin," a creation of the late Bob Fosse, is the musical tale of the desperate search by King Charlemagne's son for fulfillment, set in 780 A.D. "or thereabouts." It is a journey that takes him through encounters with war, sex and ultimately his most satisfying relationship with a widow and her young son. Pippin is guided by a narrator and a comical troupe of roving players, who serve as commentators on his antics.
Toby's is tucked away in the woods of Columbia, down the road from the Merriweather Post Pavilion. Its theater-in-the-round format, with black walls trimmed with show lights, is the perfect setting for the show. Cast members also double as efficient waiters and waitresses before the show and at intermission. The set is simple but inventive, with props dropped from the ceiling to change scenes.
The highlight of the show undoubtedly is Ray Hatch as the leading player who acts as Pippin's guide and narrates the show. Hatch, who also developed the play's excellent choreography, dances with a suave flair, commanding the focus in every scene in which he appears.
Rob McQuay as Pippin conveys a satisfactory performance of the lost soul searching for life's meaning, but lacks an essential knack for comedy that his counterparts possess. As the play's confused misfit, his antics sometimes lack humor, specifically in a slapstick scene where he plays a bumbling soldier. He also has difficulty mastering some of the high notes of the musical repertoire that chorus members and other principal characters execute with ease.
These minor faults fortunately do not condemn the show because the supporting cast, prevalent throughout the show, is flawless. Memorable performances include Michael Tilford as Pippin's intimidating father, with a wonderful baritone voice, and the adorable young Nicole Macy as Theo, son of the widow. Nicole alternates with Timmy Condon in the role. A scene in which Pippin and Theo sing sweetly to a dying duck is one of the play's most precious moments.
The dozen "players" in "Pippin" have voices so powerful they sound like a cast of thousands. Swinging from ceiling ropes and alternating roles from peasants to soldiers to sex goddesses, they are multitalented, bellowing challenging tunes that are a treat for the ears: "Morning Glory" and "Magic to Do." Troupe member Constance Ogden stands out as a member with extensive dance experience and is graceful in every scene.
The choreography in large part was good, although a seduction scene tended to drag because the dance steps could not sustain consistent attention. The production also had some technical problems. Faulty equipment made it difficult to hear all the actors' lines at times, and the loud musical accompaniment contributed to the problem.
The production's attributes, however, clearly outweighed its flaws. The Toby's Dinner Theatre cast seems to have found its "Corner of the Sky" in "Pippin," performing enthusiastically and with great polish.
"Pippin" plays at Toby's Dinner Theatre in Columbia through Jan. 3.