Although no longer revolutionary, Stephen Schwartz's dark 1972 episodic musical "Pippin" continues to surprise and intrigue. In a production by 2nd Star in Bowie, the spirit of the show's director/choreographer
"Pippin" is the story of a naïve young prince's search for meaning and fulfillment in life. Pippin's racy grandmother encourages him to savor a series of fleshly encounters, and the amoral Leading Player guides him to battlefield competitions, sensual pleasures and, ultimately, patricide — as Pippin briefly becomes king by killing his father, Charlemagne.
"When introduced over 35 years ago, the award-winning musical 'Pippin' was quite bold and risque, and this performance is intended to suggest the style of the show in its original form," writes 2nd Star director Larry Friedman in his director's notes. "Through many different experiences, Pippin learns to define what in his journey constituted fulfillment and to bring a relevant conclusion for us."
The excitement starts immediately at 2nd Star's "Pippin" with the dazzling, high-energy visual impact of its opening scene. Aptly titled "Magic to Do," the number begins with a shiny black curtain composed of narrow shimmering strips, through which hands begin to jut out in rhythmic greeting. Lights brighten and the tempo quickens as the dance ensemble emerges from behind the curtain to bring on the Leading Player.
This major role is smartly delivered by veteran song-and-dance man Vince Musgrave, who redefines the role originated on Broadway by Ben Vereen. As the Leading Player, Musgrave displays a seemingly effortless fluidity that conveys his knowledge of man's darker side and his casual acceptance of Pippin's. Adding to Musgrave's charm as the Leading Player is his sly backward kick — a stylish salute to Fosse's spirit.
Another superb dancer is Hannah Thornhill, developing sultry hip moves and shoulder shrugs to punctuate her slithery portrayal of Fastrada, the sultry stepmother of Pippin. Thornhill is convincing as the doting, ambitious mother, while bringing a light, earthy touch to transform Charlemagne's queen into "Charlie's" pampered wife.
In the title role of Pippin, Nick Lehan makes a strong 2nd Star debut, conveying Pippin's warmth, depth and laughter. He also displays strong vocal and dance skills. Lehan's Pippin connects to the whole ensemble from Leading Player to father Charles (Charlemagne), stepmother Fastrada and half-brother Lewis, and later to would-be soul mate Catherine and her son, Theo. From the lead-off "Corner of the Sky" theme to a heartfelt "Love Song" near the show's end, Lehan creates many of "Pippin's" major musical highlights.
With his solid portrayal of King Charles, 2nd Star favorite Wendell Holland adds another delightful, tuneful and good-humored performance.
TiaJuana Rountree returns to 2nd Star to give another award-worthy performance here as Pippin's saucy grandmother Berthe, lighting up the stage with her bawdy "No Time at All," in which she invites the audience to sing along for warm camaraderie and extra fun.
Carl Williams makes another strong 2nd Star debut as Pippin's half-brother Lewis, proving his athleticism, dancing skill and ability to deliver a comic line. Williams also has great chemistry with Thornhill.
As the widow Catherine, Rebekka Meyer gives a heartfelt performance, revealing a woman of intelligence and compassion who can provide Pippin the fulfillment he seeks. Although Catherine's songs are not the best in the score, Meyer delivers them with feeling, as in the poignant "I Guess I'll Miss the Man."
Matthew Beagan, 9, a fourth-grader at Indian Creek School, alternates with Yorktown Elementary fifth-grader Jacob Hastings in the role of Catherine's son, Theo, who helps Pippin find fulfillment.
A talented supporting ensemble of 10 "Players" provides almost constant dancing and lively sparkle to the entire show.
Skilled director Friedman deserves high marks in his first 2nd Star directorial assignment.
Choreographer Karen Jameson Hastings both respects the show's original choreography and smoothly tailors the dances to showcase the unique skills of this show's top dancers.
Music director/conductor Joe Biddle and his 10-piece orchestra bring new life to Schwartz's catchy 13-tune score.
Lighting designer Garrett Hyde and his crew add excitement, intensifying changing moods through varied colors projected on the backdrop. Strobe lights heighten the intensity of battle scenes.
The sound design seemed unusually clean with no disturbing hum , perhaps as a result of minimal miking.