Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz; Direction by Victor Maog; Choreography by Tracy Bersley; Music direction by Joel Gelpe.
Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp, our venerable performing arts camp, now is in its 97th year. Among its notable alumni is Stephen Schwartz, composer and lyricist of musicals such as “Godspell” and animated films such as “Pocahontas.” Among other honors, he has won three Academy Awards and three Grammy Awards. In performing his “Pippin,” Perry-Mansfield is, in part, deservedly honoring itself.
Pippin is the eldest son of Charlemagne and therefore heir to the Holy Roman Empire. Historically, Charles the Great’s heirs were weak, and his empire declined, but it was not consumed by the barbarity that had proceeded it, at least not until civility completely unraveled in 1914. “Pippin,” the musical, suffers from the contrast of light lyrics with the real history that more appropriately might be the subject of tragedy. Last year’s production of “The Pirates of Penzance” was the other way around: the silly lyrics were all the more humorous when compared with the Grand Opera Gilbert and Sullivan were spoofing.
Pippin, admirably sung and acted by Skye Edwards, is portrayed as a young man searching for something meaningful to devote his life to. Holy Roman Emperor did not especially appeal to him, though he tried for it a bit, after murdering his dad. His liberal policies backfired, but luckily Charles was able to be resurrected and take his old job back.
Pippin then lived with the widow Catherine, played by Molly Griggs, and her son Theo, played by Kaiti Williamson, but he came to feel there must be more to life than endless farm chores, and so he renewed his quest. Eventually, her love for him won him over, and we learn finally the importance of love. No mention is made of the trade-off of personal fulfillment for the Holy Roman Empire.
I personally most enjoyed the segment entitled “No Time at All,” sung by Pippin’s grandmother, Berthe, played by Steamboat native and nine-year Perry-Mansfield veteran Miriam Pensack. Although the singalong did not happen, her voice and acting were wonderful, and I hope she stays with her present career choice.
Emily Koch did an excellent job as Leading Player. She was on stage much of the time and possesses a full voice, which she is not reluctant to use, as well as a very expressive face. Her strength and energy pulled the ensemble together.
I also liked the special effect of smoke billowing out of the common area and stage. This was made possible by turning the stage around, forcing the audience to cross the stage to be seated.
The smoke of Hell must have been carbon dioxide generated by dry ice and water, as there was no fire and brimstone acrid taste.
Love as the resolution of everything is a time-honored but weak dramatic device. More difficult to express, but more pertinent, might well be that which Schwartz, and generations of students, have found to lead to personal fulfillment: a commitment to the arts.