My recent adventure to the Pembroke Pines Performing Arts Theatre’s current production wasn’t my first time seeing Pippin, an endearing, inscrutable little mess of a show that first premiered in 1972. But it was my first time seeing Pippin quite like this, “this” meaning “set” during the “summer of love” as opposed to during the period in which the show actually takes place, which happens to be medieval times.
At least on the surface of it, the musical tells the story of an aimless young prince, the son of the great King Charlemagne, as he finds himself on an increasingly fruitless quest for personal fulfillment. What makes it somewhat more unique, though, is an intriguing “show within a show” structure, in which a mysterious “leading player” narrates the action while those around him are implied to be part of a traveling theatre troupe in which the play being performed is Pippin’s life.
And though both the script and the production have their rather apparent weaknesses, there’s still plenty of humor, depth, and, as the show’s opening number suggests, even magic, in the story and in this telling. In particular, I felt director Richard Weinstock’s sixties take to be both dependably visually stimulating and at least as effective as any other in illustrating the plight of the title character, who does feel, in a way, more like a meandering child of the 60s then of the harder-edged middle ages.
Though that brings us to some more of what I saw as the show’s major flaws—the privileged, self-absorbed, and rather unlikable protagonist—there is something entirely universal about his journey away from a life of cheap thrills, glamor, and hope for stardom, and towards a more modest, less showy, sort of everyday happiness, as encapsulated in timeless songs like the yearning “Corner of the Sky.”
Amidst the scheming of his evil stepmother Fastrada and the other goings-on at court, we watch Pippin fumbling and stumbling his way through one-night stands, revolutionary aspirations, and even seizing the crown, before retreating to a life on the young widow Catherine’s simple country estate.
Unfortunately, the broad strokes with which most of this story is told somewhat undercut its dramatic impact, and, as opposed to character or story development, too much time is spent on near-meaningless diversions or extended dance sequences, some of which are not nearly entertaining enough to justify their length. And yet, there are also some genuinely moving moments interspersed amidst all the whimsical, entertaining ones.
Notably, there are also quite a few sexy moments. For better or for worse, Pippin is a show that simply exudes eroticism, with plenty of raunchy jokes in the mix. Then, there are numbers like “Women,” in which three very attractive ladies played by ensemble members Cassidy Joseph, Shelby Tudor, and Del Marrero take their turns at tempting Pippin with seductive dance moves.
Later, a sexual encounter between Pippin and Catherine is represented by an amusing dance sequence between Joseph and another ensemble member, Spencer Landis, that conveys a remarkably clear meaning about what is going on under the sheets.
There’s also the undeniable steaminess of promising newcomer Stefano Galeb in the title role. Besides seeming to struggle with only the most difficult sections of the vocally demanding score, Galeb’s otherwise strong singing voice and magnetic, self-possessed manner ultimately allow him to serve as an eminently watchable centerpiece of the action.
Other actors worth writing home about include Lisa Lowe, who was incredibly funny as Fastrada’s power-hungry son Lewis, Christina Carlucci as a sinister Leading Player, and Anna Cappelli as a peppy Catherine. Though there were other supporting cast members who didn’t seem quite as in command of themselves, the stage, or their characters as these standouts, most did at least decently well at conveying their characters’ essence.