There is always a sense of magic in the art of theatre, and SDSU ‘s PIPPIN streaming through May 8th invites you into the theatre to join them. After all, they have “Magic To Do” and they can’t do it without you.
This Tony Award-winning musical, directed and choreographed by Stephen Brotebeck gets an engaging and entertaining production from the highly talented cast of MFA students. Usually produced with a full cast and ensemble, this show is made up entirely of 8 talented performers; Clinton Sherwood, Julio Catano-Yee, Casey Craig, Melissa Glasgow, Victoria Matlock Fowler, Kyle Montgomery, Sheldon Gomabon, and Christopher Shin.
Never fear, though the cast may be small, they are mighty and create a production that is charming and full of fun.
Set in the present-day, a young man happens upon a theatre that he believes is empty, he instead finds an acting troupe inviting him onstage with them. He takes on the role of Pippin and encouraged by the Leading Player and the rest of the cast to play his part all the way through to the grand finale.
Pippin (Clinton Sherwood) is a prince without a purpose, he doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life. But he does know he wants to be extraordinary. (Don’t we all Pippin, don’t we all.)
The son of famed King Charlemagne called Charles in this production (Casey Craig), Pippin tries to find his place in the world. He has an ambitious stepmother Fastrada (Melissa Glasgow), who schemes to see her son Lewis (Sheldon Gomabon) as next in line for the throne instead of Pippin.
Encouraged by the Leading Player (Julio Catano-Yee), Pippin tries different characters on for size. He even goes to his Grandmother Berthe (Kyle Montgomery) for advice and she tells him not to waste time
Is he a soldier? A lover? A (reluctant) farmhand and potential husband to widower Catherine (Victoria Matlock Fowler) and her young son Theo (Christopher Shin)? None of those roles feel right, feel dynamic, feel…extraordinary. Could the Leading Player’s finale be what Pippin needs after all?
This production benefits from the talented cast and the lighthearted and very theatrical tone throughout. It takes advantage of the empty theatre setting; from dancing, shadow play, to puppets it allows for multiple ways of storytelling. The lighting (designed by Colby Freel) is used most effectively, from dreamy watercolor-washed backgrounds to shadows and silhouettes behind curtains.
Sherwood as Pippin is funny, sweet, and stubborn, which fits the boy who is finding that growing up is hard to do. His Pippin throws himself into each new endeavor with enthusiasm but is bewildered when each option proves not to live up to his expectations.
Catano-Yee has a charming smile to accompany his, witty, and goading Leading Player. Everyone can have a good time as long as everyone is doing exactly as he says, if not, he turns more demanding and nasty.
Craig offers a cheerful warlord King, who just loves what he does and even does a little dance when it’s time to pillage. He also good-naturedly understands the hazards of his job as a man with sons who stand to inherit upon his death.
Glasgow as Fastrada is a delightfully scheming queen. She sweetly sings “spread a little sunshine” while looking at knives, and does a sharp and stylish dance while plotting her husband’s death and framing her stepson for it.
Montgomery as the grandmother Berthe is a brassy no-nonsense theatrical dame, who wastes no time once in the spotlight and has no shortage of dramatic costume changes. She knows she is fabulous, and that the audience should sing along with her (but not steal her spotlight or her solo)
The heart of the show is grounded in Matlock Fowler’s widow Catherine. She’s funny and sweet, but also has a quiet determination. She is the softer more vulnerable side to balance out the acting troupes promises fame and fun at any cost.
The music direction by Robert Meffe is excellent and must be appluaded. While there may only be 8 players, the music sounds fully rounded and lush. That’s partly thanks to his magic working with the cast members to create ensemble tracks that accompany their live singing.
It’s fitting that this PIPPIN has a setting of an empty theatre that is being viewed by the audience over the internet. Both the theatre and the internet are places where someone can present themselves however they choose, as long as they’re committed to their part.
PIPPIN at SDSU is playing through May 8th. For ticket information go to ttf.sdsu.edu/events/pippin.
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Pippin – Clinton Sherwood
Leading Player – Julio Catano-Yee
Charles – Casey Craig
Fastrada – Melissa Glasgow
Catherine – Victoria Matlock Fowler
Berthe – Kyle Montgomery
Lewis – Sheldon Gomabon
Theo – Christopher Shin
Director/Choreographer – Stephen Brotebeck
Music Director – Robert Meffe
Scenic Design – Jenni Baldwin
Costume Design – Waverly Strickland
Lighting Design – Colby Freel
Sound Design – Bryce Shinohara
Stage Manager – Ryn Schroeder
Technical Director – Cynthia Bloodgood
Production Electrician – Ally Wood
Dramaturg – Charlie Meffe