Charing Cross Theatre
Reviewed – 5th July 2021
“The pace of the production is unrelenting, and the hit list of songs comes thick and fast”
There is ‘Magic to Do’ in the round, underneath the arches at Charing Cross Theatre with this new production of Stephen Schwartz’s classic musical Pippin. Director Steven Dexter takes on his fourth production of the show, developing his version from last autumn at the Garden Theatre.
Performed by a versatile ensemble of eight, Pippin (Ryan Anderson) – with shades of Peer Gynt – goes off on a life journey in search of success and fulfilment, aided and abetted by a troupe of travelling hippie players who may, or may not, have Pippin’s best interests at heart. Always by Pippin’s side is the scheming, snake-hipped Leading Player (Ian Carlyle) who, when not centre stage, can be found observing close by, conducting the band, directing the lighting changes and marshalling his players. He leads Pippin a merry dance intending it to culminate in a sensational Grand Finale – both the show’s and Pippin’s – if fate or love does not intervene.
The set is colourful and vibrant with copious suns and flowers, the circular stage area reminiscent of a big top circus ring. This is 1967, the year of the Summer of Love, and flower-power is in its ascendancy. As we take our seats, the fragrance of incense in the air, Pippin – peace and love symbols embroidered onto his jeans – sits alone, brooding. We hear a soundtrack of sixties songs – The Beach Boys, Cream – interspersed with news bulletins of progress of the Vietnam War. But as the action begins, the period feel becomes less important. This story is timeless.
The pace of the production is unrelenting, and the hit list of songs comes thick and fast – ‘Corner of the Sky’, ‘Glory’, ‘Morning Glow’ ‘Kind of Woman’. The two-piece band is supported by the ensemble with a rhythmic drive of finger clicks, foot stamps and the beating of their own cajons. Together in song and dance they re-enact Pippin’s life, each member taking the role of a significant other in the story: his father, mother, grandmother, lover. And as each player takes centre stage, they are treated to a drum roll from their fellows. Special mention is due here for Genevieve Nicole as Berthe, Pippin’s grandmother, who so nearly steals the show whilst leading the audience in a sing along of ‘No Time at All’. But everyone excels: the words are clear, the singing powerful, the variety of dance styles exhilarating.
But it is Pippin and the Leading Player who are the equal stars of this show. Anderson is sympathetic in his portrayal of Pippin as his character swings from vulnerability to exuberance and then through apathy to tenderness when he allows himself to find love with his Catherine. And his energy is balanced by Carlyle’s control in showing the Player’s cynicism, persuasion, and drive to produce the spectacular. Together the couple command the stage, and no more than during their duet ‘On the Right Track’.
The production is family-friendly with no severed limbs or decapitated heads. And the sexual hijinks are more sensual and implied than explicit, with no more than a hint of bump-and-grind.
The work of Stephen Schwartz will be well represented this year on the London stage with Wicked, The Prince of Egypt, The Children of Eden and Godspell all upcoming but the run begins here with this fine and most enjoyable revival of his first big success.
Reviewed by Phillip Money
Photography by Edward Johnson
Charing Cross Theatre until 14th August
Previously reviewed this year by Phillip:
The Money | ★★★ | Online | April 2021
Animal Farm | ★★★★ | Royal & Derngate | May 2021
Trestle | ★★★ | Jack Studio Theatre | June 2021
Romeo and Juliet | ★★★★ | Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre | June 2021
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