“Pippin”: A tale of family, love, war, betrayal, travel and searching for your true purpose in life. It’s a story of following your heart and learning from your mistakes. There are also a lot of really catchy show tunes and acrobatics.
“Pippin” is a wonderful contradiction. Taking place during Charlemagne’s reign in France, it has a wonderful cirque du soleil atmosphere that, along with the ’70s pop/rock score, is before its time. But that’s what makes it fascinating.
Watching Phoenix Theatre’s production of “Pippin” is like watching a Shakespearean play fused with the musical “Chicago.” It shouldn’t work together, but in this case, it really, really does.
The story of “Pippin” follows, well, Pippin — the 20-something prince and son of King Charlemagne who has just finished college and is trying to find his place in the world, who comes across heartbreak, love and adventure along the way.
It’s witty, innovative, funny and thought-provoking, and the cast of Phoenix Theatre does an incredible job of making the idiosyncratic, eccentric, circus-like musical come to life on the stage.
The songs are entertaining, the lights are striking, the sets are artistic, the costumes are imaginative and the cast is talented and enthusiastic. It’s one of those shows that keeps you smiling the whole time and wishing you could be on stage, too.
Originally written by Roger O. Hirson with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, “Pippin” is directed and choreographed by Phoenix Theatre’s Michael Barnard.
In “Pippin” you’ll see aerial acrobatics, tumbling and exciting dance numbers by the gifted cast, but there are definitely some stand-out actors who really elevate the show.
Naturally, one of those actors played the title character of the show. Anthony Johnson, who portrayed Pippin, is an extremely talented singer and actor. Johnson, undoubtedly, made his Phoenix Theatre debut with the leading role in one of the best shows of the season.
Johnson’s renditions of “Corner of the Sky” and “Extraordinary” are some of the greatest songs the show has to offer and were performed exceptionally. Both songs earned an enthusiastic applause from the audience.
Another crowd favorite was Paul Oakley Stovall, who acted the part of the Leading Player, akin to a circus ringmaster, who led the ensemble in telling the story of Pippin’s journey and nitpicking the characters along the way.
Stovall’s character is the comic relief of the musical and is naturally entertaining. He played the part perfectly with his amusing interpretation of his character. He was sassy, a bit raunchy and hilariously irate throughout the show. His song “Simple Joys” was a crowd-pleaser.
A couple of other songs that stood out were “And There He Was” by Pippin’s love interest Catherine, played by Trisha Hart Ditsworth, and “Finale/Magic Shows and Miracles,” sung by the whole ensemble.
Ditsworth has an enchanting voice that really captivates an audience, and the cast as a whole shined in the “Finale” song, proving that you don’t have to go to a Broadway show to see great singing and dancing at the same time.
And perhaps my favorite part of the show — and what might be yours, too — was that after all of the glitz and the glam and the lights and the ostentatious nature of the musical, the ending was incredibly realistic. Touching, but unexpectedly realistic.
I never would have guessed it.
“Pippin” is being performed at Phoenix Theatre through March 30. Tickets can be bought at http://phoenixtheatre.com/ or at the box office. Tickets start at $46.