Review: RLT’s ‘Pippin’ Defies Any Preconceived Expectations and Zeroes in on Heart of the Story

Pippin follows the exploits of Prince Pippin, the eldest son of Charlemagne, who has just returned from university and is searching for meaning in his life. But can someone so ‘extraordinary’ find magic and meaning in life’s simpler joys? It’s a quest story, a search for self, that when done right is highly entertaining and hopeful. When done badly, however, it can be disjointed and confusing. Fortunately, the Raleigh Little Theatre production, under the mindful direction of Patrick Torres, is the former and notable for a variety of reasons.

First, this is not Fosse’s Pippin nor is it Paulus’. This is hands-down Torres’ Pippin. Yes, Torres does nod to the original 1972 Tony Award-winning Broadway production, which was directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse, with some numbers here skillfully choreographed by Chasta Hamilton that are reminiscent of Fosse’s style but not exact reproductions. Torres also acknowledges the Tony Award-winning 2013 revival in which director Diane Paulus cast a troupe of circus performers and acrobats to breathe new life into the show. Here, Torres and Hamilton highlight the talents of local aerialist Carlie Huberman to dazzle and deflect during the number With You. But this is undoubtedly Torres’ baby, nurtured, fully developed, and conceived in a refreshing way that strips away some of the spectacle, suspends any preconceived notions, and zeroes in on the coming-of-age story.

Jesse Farmer portrays Pippin with such a believable boyish resolve, it’s delightful. The transparency of his performance is augmented by his strong vocals which are consistent throughout, from the melodic Corner of the Sky in Act One to the up-tempo Extraordinary in Act Two. Like Farmer, Molly Hamelin’s Catherine is pitch perfect. And Deanna Richards as the Leading Player, Pippin’s alter ego, is an undeniable triple threat, singing, dancing, and contriving from start to finish. Notable too is Rebecca Johnston as Pippin’s grandmother Berthe, who stops the show with her forthright, sassy, and deliberate rendition of No Time at All, and Douglas Kapp as King Charles, who simply slays War is a Science. Kapp is a seasoned performer who recently appeared on the RDU on Stage podcast to talk about disability representation on stage. He has low vision, but you would never know that here, which is not only a testament to his performance, but also Torres’ thoughtful staging.

Visually there are moments in this production that are simply stunning. More than that though, there is an underlying communal spirit that is infectious and engaging.

On this week’s RDU on Stage podcast, Carol de Giere, Stephen Schwartz’s biographer, breaks down the intricacies of Pippin. Schwartz wrote the music and lyrics to Pippin, which de Giere says has a soul to it that makes the show both timeless and relatable. And that’s what works here. There is a sincerity that makes this production special, one of the best musicals of late at Raleigh Little Theatre.

Pippin runs through June 16th at Raleigh Little Theatre. For more information visit: https://raleighlittletheatre.org/.

To hear what Carol de Giere has to say about Stephen Schwartz and the show’s evolution on this week’s RDU on Stage podcast, click here.

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