North Coast Rep's latest production: Pippin, Goes Back to the Root

 As the Staging Honors the 1972 Original  

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

 Front- Brendan Dallaire, 2nd Row- James Oblack, Spencer Kearns, Back Row L-R - Katy Tang, Jason Maddy, Leslie Stevens, Robert Zelaya, Amy Smith,
Gracie Moore, Katie Karel - photo by Aaron Rumley

I was introduced to Pippin in 2014 when the Broadway touring production was in Los Angeles gearing up for their San Diego engagement the following year. Patina Miller won the Tony Award in 2013 for her performance as the lead player. The 21st-century revival of Pippin brought a lot of bells, whistles, acrobatics, and circus artistry from Les 7 doigts de la main. That was my reference so, when NCR announced it would be the last show in their season 41, I thought "Oh, cool!" but then I thought "How are they going to stage this?" Well, the answer is back to basics. Nick DeGruccio's direction is full of feeling and handled the production delicately, keeping its originality and bringing out what made it a hit. Pippin first saw the Broadway light in 1972, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and a book by Roger O. Hirson, directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse. That is a strong legacy and what North Coast did, was bring it back to the root honoring that legacy with its style, and gorgeous theatricality. 

In an abandoned theatre, a leading player (Robert Zelaya) introduces the audience to the performance troupe he travels with and how they will break the fourth wall. He then introduces Pippin (Brendan Dallaire) a young prince, son to King Charlamagne (Jason Maddy), and Fastrada (Katie Karel). Pippin is looking for purpose and meaning in his life so he ventures into different things like going to battle with his father and brother Lewis (James Oblak), dethroning his dad, bunking in with a widow named Catherine (Katy Tang) and her son Theo (Spencer Kearns), visiting his naughty and free, grandma Berthe, a hilarious and fun Gracie Morre. It is wonderful to see Katy Tang in another NCR production where she also embodies a player. Tang delivers different layers that go from longing widow to woman in love, and sensual dancer in between. Her work is impeccable. 
Nothing works for Pippin as all the experiences result in "meh"; something that the leading player is not happy about at all, as a script needs to be followed and with every story, a grand finale. Pippin tries to keep at it but changes his mind and after going off script along with others, he discovers the "extra" in the "ordinary". 

It is always fun to see company debuts and this cast has a few like Brendan Dallaire who gives a fresh take on Pippin with a great voice and charisma. Marty Burnett created a wonderful home for this story with a decayed backstage in oak tones, and a red curtain emphasized by Matt Novotny's lighting design with more red and yellows that enhance each scene and feature in it. A brick wall serves as the backdrop and Thonet chairs are hanging from the wall which are used throughout the performance. This idea not only takes advantage of the whole space and makes it functional for the large cast of 11 actors, but it also gives a wink to Fosse and his memorable choreographies. 
James Oblak & Amy Smith - photos by Aaron Rumley 

Jason Maddy and Katie Karel as the king and queen are hilarious and keep up a nice going beat for the almost three-hour running performance. Spencer Kearns, the youngest member in the cast, and very young overall as he is still in high school, but his artistic studies show and shine as he is a great dancer as well as a singer, and plays along wonderfully with other cast members such as Leslie Stevens who is one of the players and also a terrific dancer partnering up in some scenes with Amy Smith who practically has no dialogue but the physical theatre is there and performed well, nicely wrapped in Roxane Carrasco's choreography based on Fosse's original but making it her own while using the limited space well and challenging the artists, serving as an amazing compliment to the enthralling scenes.  

Zoë Trautmann's costume design with period pieces for the royals and cabaret, and sexy lingerie ensembles for the players gives that old Hollywood or Broadway flare. In this production, Pippin is wearing jeans and I believe that the denim gives it a 2023 touch making it more relevant with the youth now. Alyssa Kane did it again with fun and telling props that go from dancing canes to hats, to limbs and heads. Playing with those limbs and heads was James Oblak also in a company debut and also playing as the less smart sibling but Oblak is charming and gifts the audience a royal dose of great storytelling. Robert Zelaya as the leading player and the character who is the axis that keeps the plot moving is a nice triple threat leaving a wonderful first impression in this company debut.

Katy Tang, Brendan Dallaire & Spencer Kearns - photo by Aaron Rumley 
Again, making great use of the space was the live music and its members: Ron Councell on piano, reeds Mark Margolies, guitar/cello Nikko Nobleza, drums/percussion, Tom Versen, under the musical direction of Ron Councell. Wrapped in a wonderful sound design by Paul Peterson who nailed the hollowness of an empty theatre but gave the sound the theatricality needed to follow the story. Paul hails from The Old Globe and it is wonderful to see him working on projects over here.

The nice part about honoring the original production of Pippin is the meaning of the story where the message goes beyond the flashy, the lavish, and the shiny. Sometimes, the key is just to stop and smell the fresh air. 

Pippin is currently playing until August 20. For performance times and dates please click here.

No comments:

Post a Comment