Dallas — One of Broadway’s most whimsically charming shows, Stephen Schwarz’s Pippin, is currently on stage in a beautifully adept production directed by Michael Serrecchia for a cast including one seasoned pro and a company of college-level pre-professional actors at KD Conservatory College of Film and Dramatic Arts.
Very loosely inspired by the life of the son of early medieval Emperor Charlemagne, the musical Pippin explores, with an outward wide-eyed innocence, themes of mythic familial conflict, the corruption of absolute power, picaresque hedonism, personal ambition, and the nature of theater. But these profound and potentially depressing topics never overwhelm the spirit of light-hearted comedy, or the succession of inspired songs Schwarz rolled out for this show.
Director Serrecchia, who attained Broadway immortality of sorts in the role of Frank in the original production of A Chorus Line, clearly knows exactly what to do with this show and this cast within the intimate space of the theater at Trinity River Arts Center (the home the professional Kitchen Dog Theater company). Serrecchia downplays without abandoning the original concept of a traveling Medieval acting troupe, focusing on the physical agility and energy of this company of young actors. And choreographer Tricia Guenther produced unfailingly entertaining motion ranging from the battle scene to the orgy.
The one pro in the show, Denise Lee, anchored the production in the role of Leading Player—a combination of master of ceremonies, Greek chorus, and narrator—with an assertive command, backed up by a beautiful alto voice and resonant delivery. Her performance of the opening song, “Magic to Do” (backed up by chorus) was, well, magical.
Austin Hines played the title role with boy-next-door innocence during the first weekend of performances, wanting a little more intensity of character in the Friday night opening. But he managed to soar appropriately in the show’s biggest hit song, “Corner of the Sky.” Daniel Philippus will take the role for the second weekend of performances.
Among the rest of the cast, TJ Kidwell gavs an intriguing performance as King Charles (aka Charlemagne). Along with a pleasantly ambivalent portrayal of a ruler who was both idealistic and cruel, he owned the most promising voice in the cast, with a booming but flexible baritone.
Alejandra Bigio was delightfully seductive and conniving as Pippin’s evil stepmother Fastrada, paired with Nicholas Thierfeldt as Pippin’s athletic and clueless half-brother Lewis; Scarlett O’Hare took on the task of a beautiful young woman playing the wise and slightly lustful grandmother Bertha, turning her song “Not Time at all” into a high light of the show. Kate Bernard played up the guileless longing of Pippin’s eventual true love Catherine with an attractive but small voice, and child actor Camden Duyck proved flawless as Catherine’s son Theo. Duyck held the stage calmly in the spotlight in the final moment, movingly delivering the final reprise of “Corner of the Sky.”
Mark Mullino directed the musical numbers from the keyboard, joined by guitar and percussion for a small ensemble that worked very well in the space; a mix of amplified and non-amplified singing proved ideal for this instance. And the superb diction of the entire cast merits mention: not a word was lost, which is too often not the case with musical theater.
Costumes and scenery were not specifically credited in the program; the concept was clearly light-hearted stock storybook-medieval, appropriate for the not-at-all-historically-accurate historical setting. Though what might be called only a semi-professional production, this version of Pippin brings this enduring and unique Broadway masterpiece to life winningly, and is well worth the attention of the musical connoisseur.