May River production of 'Pippin' is magic

nancy.wellard@cancer.orgNovember 11, 2011 

  • The May River Theatre Co.'s "Pippin" will be performed at 8 p.m. today and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Performances are held in Bluffton Town Hall's Ulmer Auditorium at the corner of Pritchard and Bridge streets in old town Bluffton. Tickets are $20.

    Details: 843-815-5581

A mysterious troupe of actors and Goths -- and a sprinkling of Visigoths -- in brilliant costumes and amazing makeup fill the stage and invite us to share the story of Pippin and his search for fulfillment. What a story, what a trip and what an outcome.

You'll have a good time as you enjoy this close-up look at all of the historically inspired characters who work so hard to bring you well-known, Tony Award-winning "Pippin," on stage through Sunday at The May River Theatre Co. in Bluffton.

The piece chronicles the comings and goings of these fascinating eighth century characters who peopled that picturesque, kind of historical, magical, mystical corner of the world. Designed to fully involve the audience, we follow the players as they face tyranny, revolution, war, murder, relationships and love.

Pippin is our protagonist, but it is The Leading Player who helps us follow Pippin, a son of Charlemagne, on his adventures. Pippin tries to determine his place in his family, in the world and above all to find happiness and make a difference.

I must tell you this is an unconventional musical theater experience, which offers an intriguing concept, some amazing characters and some memorable musical settings. Having said that, I'll also add that our community theater's "Pippin" -- fun and engaging, slightly changed from the original Broadway production of 1972 -- will send you out into the night with a smile on your face and humming '70s tunes.

Directed and choreographed by Jodie Dupuis, with assistant direction by Pete Zeleznik, music direction by Adam Rich and produced by Ed Dupuis, "Pippin" is presented through special arrangement with Music Theatre International. The original production on the Broadway stage was directed by Bob Fosse.

A cast of 18 dedicated actors, singers, dancers and musicians, all from the South Carolina Lowcountry and Georgia, several from right here in Bluffton, take us through a time in history, tweaked appropriately for our enjoyment. They offer some engaging, romantic, inspirational musical numbers which you'll enjoy for lots of different reasons, "Magic to Do," "Corner of the Sky," "Glory," "Spread a Little Sunshine," "Right Track" and "Love Song," particularly.

The Leading Player slot, usually filled by Zeleznik, was delivered with just the right amount of mysticism, cynicism, and ironic humor by Rich, the music director, who stepped in for Zeleznik at the performance I saw. Tall and slim in a kind of stylized magician costume, he was commanding, kind of large and in charge, and his narrative twists were spot-on.

The youthful, naive yet heroic Pippin was handled, with just the right spin by Chad Hsu. This is his fourth show at May River, and many will remember him as Simon Able in "Sly Fox."

The seasoned performer Michael Weaver, as Charlemagne, gave us all of the elements that contributed to the persona of the complex king. He spoke, sang and strutted about, swaggering and swinging, and trying to oversee the fate of his nation and his family, while challenged by issues of intimacy and his relationship with Pippin. Many will recognize Weaver's strong presence at May River through his appearance in some 10 leading roles.

Adding to the challenges of Charlemagne was the calculating, hard-edged Fastrada, his wife, portrayed convincingly with just the right edge by Donna Capps. A recent arrival to Bluffton, Capps hit the ground running as she performed in the enormously successful "Chicago" at May River Theatre. What fun to enjoy her relationship with her son, Lewis, a self-absorbed, kind of dim-witted, would-be king, played engagingly by Alec Bishop, a four-time veteran of May River productions.

Kelley Alcorn -- in her seventh appearance at May River, most recently as Sister Hubert in "Nunset Boulevard" and Mama Morton in "Chicago" -- was absolutely spot-on in her role as Catherine. It is she who brings about the most important change in Pippin, when, on finding him devastated at his inability to realize the meaning of life through art, religion and warfare, shows him the way to the value of a modest, kind of ordinary life. Her mastery of the musical demands of the role were obvious, and her performance was simply spectacular as she attends to Pippin and oversees the nurturing of her son, Theo, played convincingly by the youthful Cody Smiley.

The incredible finale ends the show, and you'll like the way everything resolves.

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