All reviews are written by Cappies student critics and edited by Cappies adult mentors prior to publishing.
A man, a woman, and a young boy stand in a stark spotlight center stage, while behind them a sheer black scrim ripples menacingly with the softly colored shadows of a sinister and desperate band of players. This haunting stage picture stands in eerie juxtaposition to the first scene of the production, a cheery vision of spectacle and glamour, in the tradition of grandiose Broadway classics. Yet, throughout the night, the fundamental, even biological impulse that hides behind these colored lights and glitzy costumes is exposed--the need to stand out against the oblivion of time. In St. Andrew’s Episcopal High School’s production of Stephen Schwartz’s beloved “Pippin,” the question arises--how far will we go to achieve this ambition?
The story of “Pippin” is a cheeky, and historically inaccurate, adaptation of the life of the son of Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne, as he attempts desperately to find something which will make his life meaningful. This tale is told through frequent breaking of the fourth wall by a performance troupe that pushes Pippin, a new actor, through the plot, urging him toward a mysterious grand finale. Set to a catchy 1970s pop score, this show can be twisted in dramatically different directions. The original 1972 production, directed and choreographed by the legendary Bob Fosse, is eerie and disturbing in its juxtaposition of terrifying subject matter with cheery music and spectacle. Yet, many amateur productions steer away from this morose interpretation, keeping “Pippin” light. St. Andrew’s Episcopal, however, defied this norm
The cast and crew of this production were remarkable in the varied focus of their talent. While some performers exhibited difficulties singing the challenging music in this score, the orchestra was incredibly impressive. Constantly on point, they played seamlessly as one unit, following performers with ease. Despite a few missteps by less experienced dancers in the execution of the sharp jazz choreography, performers like Weng Ian Cheong achieved both technically precise footwork and a musicality of movement which drew all eyes to her.
Robert Schepis stole countless scenes with his magnetic stage presence and playful character choices as the eccentric, egomaniacal King Charlemagne. The brilliant comedic rapport between Schepis and Chris Naughton, who played the title character of Pippin, created hilarity in the most memorable number of the night, “War is a Science.” Schepis lectured joyfully about the nuances of war, interrupted by the childishly excited Naughton. These two skilled performers carried the show, with acting performances that set them apart from the rest of the cast.
Technically, this production of “Pippin” stayed true to the classic elements of the show, while showcasing creative additions that elevated this performance. The classic stage of the traveling players creates visual levels, while the simple set pieces are adorned with the colorful, bold costuming of the classic “Pippin.” Furthermore, the production team at St. Andrew’s Episcopal created a temporary screen by back-lighting the white curtain of the movable stage, allowing them to create shadow images throughout the show. This use of shadows mirrored the eerie, ghostlike shadowing at the end of the performance, creating a thoughtful continuity.
On the cusp of its first Broadway revival, Pippin, as produced by St. Andrew’s Episcopal High School, reminded audience members why the musical remains so popular: it takes the beloved spectacle of classic Broadway and twists it into a stirring, thought-provoking drama, an amalgamation of the best of the two theatrical styles.