‘Pippin’ disappoints

Tom Andrew

City College Visual and Performing Arts department is offering the Stephen Schwartz/Roger O. Hirson musical Pippin, playing Fridays through Sundays, until April 25 at the Saville Theatre.

The musical premiered on Broadway in April of 1972 and was directed by controversial late director Bob Fosse. His take on the musical involved a lot of sex, violence and politics, which was not what Schwartz originally had in mind for the piece. In the end, a compromise was made, but the show still had a Fosse edge.

The production presented here, directed by June E. Richards and Alicia Rincon (who also choreographed) has been completely stripped of any controversy whatsoever. It is a watered down, tame version of the show, which could work if the cast was up to the challenge, but they are not.

The story is about Pippin (Michael Aviles), the son of King Charlemagne (William Tallaksen), and his journey to find himself. With the help of the Leading Player (Trevor Previnger) and his band of players, he is guided through his journey.

Pippin has just returned home from college and doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life. So, he goes to his father, King Charlemagne, to get advice.

His father welcomes him home, but is too busy ruling a country and preparing for war and has no time for him. Though he gives him no particular advice, at the end of their conversation, Pippin decides to try his hand at being a soldier.

When that doesn’t go as planned, he quickly retreats into the arms of his grandmother, Berthe (Linda McCue), and asks for her advice. She tells him to live life and enjoy it. Which he does. But after many days and nights of sex and fun, he decides he should settle down and meets Catherine (Chance Baker) and her son Theo (Robert Rapkin).

Although he does enjoy coupled life, he finds that the routine of daily life is too ordinary, and once again runs off.
Feeling he is no better off at the end of his journey than he was at the beginning, the Leading Player and his players offer Pippin a choice; to end his life Pippin a choice; to end his life in grand fashion, or to chose a family life.

The ending of the show was a problem when it first premiered almost 40 years ago and still is today.

Richards and Rincon have taken away many things in Pippins journey that literally fuel him to move forward. If we, the audience, don’t see those things, we can’t possibly understand why he moves on.

War is bloody, sex can be fulfilling and exhausting, and death can be spectacular. Every written instance of this in the show has been cut. There are ways to show this without being offensive, cutting them out completely only hurts the story.

As for the cast, a few of the performers do have good voices but the rest are either off key or can’t remember their lyrics.

As Pippin, Aviles has great energy, but is not experienced enough vocally, or commanding enough as an actor, to handle the magnitude of his role.

Peringer, who has the most experience out of the cast, falls flat as the Leading Player. Traditionally, an African American plays the part, and in dialogue, lyrics, and attitude, you can see why. Choosing to cast a Caucasian male in the role just doesn’t work and the fact that Peringer looks uncomfortable playing the role doesn’t help the matter.

McCue handles her role very well as Pippins grandmother, but needs to be less aware of the audience and whether she is being well received.

Tallaksen, is too young to play Charlemagne but is a good singer, and he, like most of the cast, needs to realize that a sarcastic delivery isn’t always funny.

Baker, who plays Catherine, has a wonderful singing voice, and has good acting and comedic instincts, but plays Catherine too harshly.

Technically the show is strong. Duane Gardelia’s scenic design is dead on, Michael Farley’s orchestra sounds good as well, and while Carole Whaley’s costumes hit all the right marks, her makeup design on most of the main characters are too garish.

For tickets, or more information call 619-388-3617.