‘Pippin’ Has Plenty of Pep

The Kansas City Repertory Theatre has developed a well-deserved reputation for developing not only new plays, but also new versions of old classics. As a case in point, look no further than its premiere show of the new season, Pippin, which runs through Oct. 7.
Pippin was first produced on Broadway in the early 1970s and had famous choreography by Bob Fosse. But director Eric Rosen wanted to update it for a new time. Rosen changed the 1970s pop music to more modern rock with a punk feel. He partnered with choreographer Chase Brock (who worked on Broadway’s Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark) to revamp the movement and dance. The result is a fast-paced, energetic, grungy story of self-discovery.
Based (extremely loosely) on the reign of Emperor Charlemagne and his son, Pippin tells the story of a young prince (played by Claybourne Elder) who feels unfulfilled at college and goes on a quest to find meaning in his life. He engages the help of his father, the king, who agrees to send Pippin into battle against enemy countries with Pippin’s younger brother (played with idiotic glee by Sam Cordes). War does not suit Pippin’s sensibilities, and he tries other avenues in life, from sexual excess, to political reform, to quiet country living. Yet none of these really help Pippin fill the emptiness he feels inside, which leads him to face the ultimate choice of his personal destiny.
One of the things that sets this show apart from other coming-of-age stories is the surreal way that the story is told. Pippin is led through his adventures by a group of actors, called Players, who occasionally pause the story and address the audience directly. As this is a musical, director Rosen made a clever decision to have the Players not only play their roles, but play musical instruments, as well. So the cast is responsible to make the songs real, not just Pippin’s adventures.
Even considering everything that the cast members need to do, everyone is up to the job. Elder does a splendid job of playing Pippin with naive passion. Katie Kalahurka is wickedly entertaining as Pippin’s bitchy stepmother Fastrada, and Mary Testa provides the showstopper of the evening as Pippin’s grandmother Berthe.
The set and choreography are well-matched. Both have an industrial punk feel, with an underlying atmosphere of sex and violence (the sex comes to the front in several numbers). This complements the reworking of the music. The use of giant picture frames is a brilliant way to illustrate the individual episodes in Pippin’s life.
In short, the Kansas City Repertory Theatre opens its new season with a punch. Fans of the original Pippin owe it to themselves to look at it in a new light. And those who have never seen the show before have the perfect opportunity to experience this classic piece of theater history.
For tickets, go to www.kcrep.org or call 816-235-2700 or 888-502-2700.

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