Kansas City Repertory Theatre
With only the best intentions to update a 1970s Broadway musical and make it relevant for new audiences, the KC Rep version of Pippin falls way short in most aspects.
The Broadway original featured Ben Vereen with choreography by legendary Bob Fosse. Each name conjures up images of extraordinary dance and rhythmic moves. This evades the KC Rep version. Taking away the choreography and forcing a melodic score into a punk rock version just does not work. When the original period costumes disappear as well, what's left is a disjointed disaster for theater aficionados. The Rep version has no magic or charm and fails to involve the audience, fails to amaze them, ruins a melodic score, and destroys any hint of Fosse choreography.
Take nothing away from the director who tried valiantly to update the musical and give it new life. This version just fails to leave the audience with satisfaction upon exit. Even though the original was not overwhelmingly memorable, this version is mostly forgettable. Overall, the KC Rep version was a huge and monumental effort to update the show, music, and story, but, unfortunately, it fails.
Actors in the show displayed talent, poise, and great musicality, but take away all choreography and simple charm of the characters and the show can only depend on the story line and music. With a weak story of Prince Pippin (that no one really knows), the show needs the music to carry it. The rock version of the score just does not work. With the updated music, no one will recall the score or leave humming bits of it. The memorable ditty, "My Little Corner of the Sky" just does not work as heavy metal.
Give credit to the cast. Wallace Smith, as Leading Player, displays his great vocal talents, but without the Fosse choreography, he does not seem like the lead, and that was the Ben Vereen part. Kudos also go to Mary Testa, who was Berthe, Pippin's grandmother. Testa steals the entire first act with her one scene appearance and her over-the-top personality. Those two actors worked hard to provide a memorable theatre experience. Noteworthy performances came from Claybourne Elder as Pippin and Katie Gilchrist as Catherine. Elder's performance is very strong and his talents show as he plays several instruments through out the show. As for Gilchrist, her characterization of Catherine gives the show a meaning and semi-happy ending. Until her appearance, the show lumbers along with no path toward a logical end.
Creative staging helped the production, but still it needed more. The use of picture frames was very unique and stood out, but then a roll out platform in the second act for Catherine's scene just seemed disjointed from the rest of the production. Costumes were appropriate for the update, but without the period costumes the show pales in comparison to the original.
The show tells the story of Prince Pippin, the eldest son of King Charlemagne of France. He traverses the production in quest of real happiness and meaning for his life. He encounters many persons and events that help shape him as he matures. He experiences the difficulties of war and also of power. He experiences love and acceptance from his grandmother but also the disdain and treachery of his step-mother. His father tries to teach him about war and ruling, but Pippin excels in neither. And, he experiences the lust of sex and the comfort of real love. The story has promise but the charm is lost in the rock version.
Again, credit the director for taking such a bold move from the original to create a new platform for the musical. And, credit all the cast for great performances and displaying their talent. But, for an enjoyable evening of theater, Pippin just does not deliver.
Overall, the show just seemed disconnected. The audience does not get the feel of a Broadway style musical nor do they come away with the feel-good aura that the show hopes to inspire. For someone not familiar with the show, he or she may enjoy this version, but, to me, it was just flat and uninspiring.