Pippin, the Tony Award-winning 1972 musical from Roger O. Hirson (Bob Fosse also contributed to the libretto) and Stephen Schwartz, opened on the Chapel Street Players stage Friday evening. Sarah Nowak directs this dark and groovy coming-of-age pop musical which stars Ian Yue, Gabrielle Rambo, Jason Beil, Danielle Finlay, Tyler Ward, Kathy Buterbaugh, Reneé O’Leary, Bridgette DuBrey, and Jamie Depto and includes the acting talents of Genevieve Aucoin, Caitlin Custer, Tony DelNegro, Kaitlyn Diehl, Lacey Eriksen, Leeia Ferguson, and Kathy Harris.
Pippin opens with a troupe of traveling entertainers, the Brechtian leading player, dynamically dramatized by Rambo, is welcoming and slightly (intentionally) intimidating. She immediately breaks the fourth wall, directly speaking to the audience and provocatively inviting our attention with the opening number, “Magic to Do,” announcing that the troupe has “miracle plays to play.” Their tale is that of Pippin, the first-born son of (Roman emperor) Charlemagne. The young prince returns home from university. Educated and eager, and with the troupe’s leading player as guide, Pippin sets out to discover what to do with his life, something, he says, that must be “completely fulfilling.” After all, he’s no ordinary guy. Pippin earnestly and sometimes comically tries war, sex, political revolution, and everyday domesticity but nothing satisfies. Finally, the leading player offers Pippin the chance to perform “the great trick,” a suicidal leap into fire that will let him “for one moment shine with unequalled brilliance.” What will this ambitious boy prince do?
Pippin is an energetic show and demands an energetic leading player. Fortunately, it has one in Gabrielle Rambo, riding herd over the gaggle of performers. Like all good temptresses, the leading player conceals her real agenda and menace until the end when she realizes she’s losing control. Rambo displays confidence as a dancer and, although she seems to struggle with a few high notes, is a competent singer who delivers a magnetic performance.
Ian Yue’s Pippin is sweet and earnest with a smattering of nerdiness thrown in for good measure. He delivers a stellar performance, proving he can act and dance. His singing voice is sweetly timid, making his version of “Corner of the Sky” endearing. It’s a wonderful surprise when Yue sits in with the band on trumpet. Jason Beil is delightfully bold and witty as Charlemagne/Charles, proving that he’s an “actor of enormous” talent. Danielle Finlay is delightful as Charlemagne’s scheming wife, Fastrada. Bridget DuBrey shines as Catherine, the determined widow whose farm Pippin agrees to help run. DuBrey’s voice is strong and clear. She delivers a wonderfully rueful rendition of “I Guess I’ll Miss the Man.” Jamie Depto is charming and funny as smart-mouthed Theo. Tyler Ward is equally funny as Lewis, Pippin’s half-brother. Kathy Buterbaugh does a sensational turn as Berthe, Pippin’s grandmother, and Reneé O’Leary lights up the stage (as she always does) if only for a few moments at a time.
I was unsure how Pippin would play on CSP’s small stage, but Sarah Nowak made good use of the space. She and Assistant Director, Kevin Shotwell came up with a clever set design that worked very well. Julie Katz deserves kudos as Pippin’s Musical Director as, once again, the small space presents certain issues. Other than a missed lighting cue and Yue delivering a brief part of his performance from the shadows at the edge of the stage, this was an evening of good theater.
Come and be entertained. Chapel Street Players has “Magic to Do” and “miracle plays to play.” Pippin runs through June 22nd. Call the box office at (302) 368-2248 or visit http://www.chapelstreetplayers.org to reserve your tickets today.