It’s opening weekend for the Arlington Players and as we walk in to the Thomas Jefferson Theatre our eyes are greeted by the eclectic set, designed by Jared Davis, which has a slightly mysterious quality that is perfect for Pippin – a musical that always leaves you questioning when and where you are. It looks like one impressive structure but to our pleasant surprise it splits into segments and provides a variety of interesting locations with varying levels for the Director (Christopher Dykton) and Choreographer (John K. Monnett) to utilize. Unfortunately, over the course of the next couple of hours, that opportunity is squandered.
We are introduced to the troupe and the Leading Player (Erich DiCenzo) in Magic to Do and it’s a tepid start visually and vocally. Until the very end of the night we never get the sense of foreboding we require from the presence of the Leading Player. We’re looking for sinister and seductive in equal measure but DiCenzo comes across more like a Vegas magician. The lighting is an issue for much of the show. At times there appear to be huge dead spots downstage where people are unintentionally lost in shadow, and at others the whole stage is lit where isolation is badly needed. The spotlight is completely over used throughout, most egregiously at the same time that the back wall is being projected upon, spoiling the effect.
Pippin is a show that regularly breaks the fourth wall so it’s important to make the dialogue between those on stage as truthful as possible so that contrast is established. Disappointingly, so many of the conversations between characters are delivered with the actors standing in straight lines facing the audience. The players must become their characters and the material really needs to be handled honestly for the pay off in the second act to make sense. Dykton and his cast treat the whole first act as if it is some long lost sequel to Spamalot, with every funny moment in the writing delivered like a punchline, leaving the action feeling somewhat disconnected from the material. That same sense permeates Monnett’s choreography which fails to exploit the many levels the set presented. During Spread a Little Sunshine, Fastrada (Carla Crawford) is left with absolutely nothing to do on stage during a dance break that seems to last an eternity and you can’t help feel for her by the end of it.
There are other awkward moments in the first act. During No Time at All, Berthe (Melanie-Jennings-Bales) inexplicably turns her back on Pippin (Jonathan Gruich) to walk several paces across the stage (to where we can only assume X marked the spot) to deliver the next part of the song. What should be the highly suggestive staging of sexual discovery in With You, leaves Gruich looking like he wandered into a ballet class. We do end act one in a visually striking way. With the stage eerily lit, the ensemble enters in religious red robes before Pippin confronts his father, Charlemagne (Keith J. Miler).
Music Director, Blakeman Brophy, has dancers first, singers second in the leading male roles. There is no stand out ensemble moment and along with a hesitant performance from the orchestra the show is underwhelming musically. Act two focuses on the relationship between Pippin and Catherine (Patty Rupinen) after she discovers him in There He Was. Many of the jokes before the intermission were overplayed so it’s surprising when Catherine’s initial attraction to the arch of Pippin’s foot is all but discarded. Rupinen gives the strongest vocal of the night on Kind of Woman but the chemistry between her and Gruich is never really developed because of how the scenes are portrayed. There is no real sense that the relationship is evolving into something deeper – in fact Catherine and her son, Theo (Aidan Chomicki) seem like an unwanted distraction for Pippin. There is a rare candid moment when Rupinen starts to reveal Catherine’s feelings for Pippin to the Leading Player. This moment of truth, however, feels a little hollow as everything we’ve seen up to this point is fighting against it.
The staging of the finale features another beautiful set piece, a relatively impressive technical success for the fire effect, and a rather bizarre moment after one of the players pretends to jump into the flames. The gravity of what they are asking Pippin to do does not really land because the foundations for that darkness have not been laid. The final scene of the show is the strongest of the production as the set is deconstructed to make Catherine aware of what life will be like with the choices she is making. As Theo stands alone center stage, with the Leading Player looming in the background, lighting and staging work in harmony to deliver a fleeting image of the show this could have been.
#tothepoint Rating: 50/100
You can view a full breakdown of the allocated points here.
Ticket Price: $23
Value Review: -$13