★★★½☆ - Satisfying
The Nevada Conservatory Theatre (NCT) presents a most satisfying 3½ Star production of PIPPIN through May 6th in UNLV’s Judy Bayley Theatre.
This wondrous visual treat is set in the circus-like court of the 8th Century Holy Roman Emperor. At the start, two Leading Players introduce the audience to their world, a theatrical caravan. The large ensemble cast joins the Leading Players in welcoming the audience with magic tricks, dance and other elements of spectacle, preparing the audience for the story that they are about to tell ("Magic to Do").
Pippin is the story of a young prince, heir to the throne, who is searching for his own “corner of the sky.” Pippin returns from university certain that he will find a fulfilling purpose in life. As encouraged by the Leading Players, Pippin dabbles in bloody battle, licentious and lusty sexual entanglements, and savvy political maneuvers, only to discover that true happiness is more complicated than he thought. Pippin is both a humorous allegory about growing up and a dark tale of the danger of false appearances and empty promises.
To prove his loyalty to his distracted father, King Charles, Pippin goes to war. But when the Leading Players convince the prince to fight tyranny, Pippin kills Charles and takes over the throne. Realizing his mistake, Pippin begs the Leading Players to bring his father back to life, and they oblige. The prince falls in love with Catherine, a widow with a young son, and (much to the Leading Player’s chagrin), Pippin struggles to decide whether he should settle down and pursue a peaceful life or continue to make magic with the dazzling troupe of performers.
Throughout this production, the “magic” of the setting is the simple multi-colored cubes, rectangles, triangles, and circles that are so effortlessly arranged, and rearranged on a turntable by the traveling troupe of actors to transport us to a new location.
In addition, the large and talented cast smoothly transition from combat, to shameless and robust sexual predicaments and shrewd political ploys with ease. Ryan Baker is the young and confused protagonist, Pippin; Keith Dotson and Alexis Hudson as the ultimate ring leaders, the two Leading Players; Darren Weller as Charles, Pippin's demanding father; Brandon Dawson as Lewis, Pippin’s ; half-brother; Alexandra Ralph as Fastrada, Pippin's conniving stepmother; Sherri Brewer as Berthe, Pippin's saucy grandmother; Alyssa Tortomasi as Catherine, a widow, mother and hopeless romantic.
Michael Lugering directed the fast-moving production, and was supported by a team that includes: musical director James Whiting; choreographer Cathy Allen; scenic designer Trevor Dotson; lighting designer Andrew Killion; sound designer Doniel Richardson; and costume designer Hailey Eakle. (Technical difficulties with the audio during the opening night performance had been repaired by the next performance.)
This production was dedicated In Memoriam to Emeritus Professor Robert Brewer, founder and Artistic Director NCT over its first six years: “Celebrating his enduring legacy, honoring his achievement, remembering his passion, and cherishing his enthusiasm for the magic of theatre.”
Legendary director-choreographer Bob Fosse won Tony Awards for his direction and choreography of the original production, presented at Broadway’s Imperial Theatre in 1972, running for five years and over 1900 performances; with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, and book by Roger O. Hirson.