Pippin | Theatre Guild of Webster Groves

The choreography seemed to minimize differences in ability among the performers, while at the same time taking advantage of individual strengths. The large dance numbers in particular were great for a community theatre musical.

 

Pippin
by Stephen Schwartz and Roger O. Hirson
Theatre Guild of Webster Groves
Directed by Dan Horst
Through March 12, 2006

What is fulfillment? That’s the question on Pippin, son of Charlemagne’s, lips, as he experiences life in the Roman Empire. Pippin experiments with war, leadership, sex, love…and fulfillment eludes him.

Pippin (Steve Brown) crowded onto the tiny stage at the Theatre Guild of Webster Groves with fourteen other performers for a fun production. When all fifteen were on stage together, it seemed a miracle of direction, by Dan Horst, that no one fell off. Would it be possible to have so many characters onstage and not have some completely hidden by others? I’d have to try it myself.

While many of the performers turned in good performances, the production was plagued with sound problems. The microphones themselves were an issue, rubbing on costumes and even falling off in one instance, although Natalie Torrence, as Frastrada, handled the mishap with grace, and continued to “Spread a Little Sunshine,” in her Marilyn Monroe-ish purr, as if nothing had happened. But the sound mix was flawed in other ways, too. The “Players” in the chorus drowned out the leads, the band drowned out everyone at one time or another—especially Brown, whose voice did not carry well. There was a humorous irony to the line, towards the end of the play, which the Leading Player admonishes Pippin: “You try singing without music, sweetheart.” No music was exactly what Brown needed, in order to be heard.

It was a shame Brown didn’t project, because when he could be heard, he sounded great. His endearingly earnest portrayal of the unfilled one may have been a bit one-dimensional (or perhaps that is what naïveté). Overall Brown was pleasing to watch, especially when he was acting up as the wayward child, and during the few temper tantrums he threw.

Beth Bishop brought spark to the role of the Leading Player. Energetic and fun, she livened up the stage each time she appeared, especially in her more domineering moments. Some men would pay good money to have her preside over them in character.

Carrie Wenos, as Catherine, Theo’s mother, gave an enjoyable and professional performance. Her duet with Brown, “Love Song,” was easily one of the best songs of the evening, as their voices harmonized well together.

Wayne Easter, as Lewis, commanded attention whenever he was on stage, provoking several nominations for “favorite” among audience members during the intermission. His performance of the male half of the metaphorical sex dance in the second act was absolutely perfect.

The Players were a fun mix of physical types: tall and short, thin and not. Fun, flamboyant costumes and elaborate makeup added to the fantasy. Spencer Milford, as the child, Theo, had a stronger voice than his apparent age would suggest, and the member of the chorus who filled in as Theo’s pet duck turned in a few good quacks, as well. Mimi Swoboda charmed in the role of Berthe, the drinking, lascivious grandmother to Pippin, drawing laughs along the way.

The choreography seemed to minimize differences in ability among the performers, while at the same time taking advantage of individual strengths. The large dance numbers in particular were great for a community theatre musical.

The middle of some of the songs seemed to drag, although that may have been the sound, and not the performances. Hopefully the problems will be resolved, and Brown will project a bit more, and the production will really come together. Some of the funnier moments involved the physical moments of the performers, and are worth seeing, even if you can’t quite hear the performers.

 

Theatre Guild of Webster Groves presents Stephen Schwartz and Roger O. Hirson’s Pippin through March 12 at the Theatre Guild of Webster Groves (517 Theatre Lane, Webster Groves). Showtimes are 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $15. No reservations; arrive 30-45 minutes before show time to be assured of a seat. For additional information call 314-962-0876. www.theaterguildwg.org

 

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