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Review: ‘Pippin’ at Act Two at Levine performing at Arena Stage

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I have often heard Pippin described as a frivolous musical with silly little songs and a thin plot, but to me, Pippin has always told a remarkable and universal story: the story of the hero’s journey.

How fitting then, to see Pippin performed by a talented troupe of young actors whose own heroic journeys are just beginning!

Pippin, which has seen two Tony Award-winning incarnations on Broadway (1972 and 2013, music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, book by Roger O. Hirson), tells the largely fictionalized story of Pippin, eldest son of Charlemagne and his search for meaning. Life isn’t all roses for this prince, and throughout the show, Pippin turns from war to love to sex to apathy in his identity quest.

Artistic Director Kevin Kuchar channeled the “meta” nature of the Pippin – the audience is meant to be aware that they are watching a work of fiction – in 21st century fashion by placing the action in the context of a movie being filmed as we are watching the play.

The cast of Pippin. Photo by Kyle Reardon for Levine Music.

This group of mostly high school students worked tirelessly in onstage and offstage roles to bring the production to life. In the performance I saw, Simon Diesenhaus embodied Pippin as a struggling dreamer in the beloved songs “Corner of the Sky,” “Morning Glow,” and “Extraordinary.” (Sam Swinnerton played Pippin in alternate performances). The Leading Player (Kendall Jones/Lily Burka) egged Pippin on in “Magic to Do,” “Glory,” and “Simple Joys.”

Pippin is a great show for showcasing talent and the performances of Hallie Friedman/Sophie Glassman as Catherine, Bryce Gudelsky/Bryan Stopak as Fastrada, Lily James/Elizabeth Doerrman as Pippin’s spunky Grandma Berthe, Matthew Ciazza/John Keating as Louis and Ari Rubenstein/Cole Edelstein as Theo prove that DC has a deep reservoir of talented youths to fill our stages for many seasons to come!

I must make special mention of Alexander Scott’s performance as King Charlemagne. Scott’s booming voice was well suited to “War Is a Science” and he brought his own brand of comedy to the role. (Jack Kurtz played Charlemagne in other performances that I did not see.)

Musical Director Marci Shegogue assembled a lovely sounding and well-paced pit orchestra comprised of Marci Shegogue (conductor/keyboards), Gary Prince (guitar), Chris Brown (bass), Manny Arciniega (drums), Paul Weiss (trumpet), Dana Gardner (reeds), and Andrew Nixon (strings).

The cast of Pippin. Photo by Kyle Reardon for Levine Music.

Aidan Gray’s sound design and Scott Selman’s lighting climaxed in the show’s “Finale” through the clever use of dry ice and colored lights in the box Pippin was encouraged to dive into.

Act Two at Levine presented Pippin for one weekend only at Arena Stage’s Kogod Cradle. Act Two at Levine provides professional level vocal and theater training to the brightest young talent in the nation’s capital region under the artistic direction of Kevin Kuchar. Please see below for a complete cast list.

Bravo, young thespians! Keep up the good work!

In addition to the actors already named, the cast of Pippin included:
Trevor Band, Sebastian Amoruso, Krystian Ochman, Fiona Selmi, Emily Kilbourne, Madison Jones, Jenny Dalrymple, Olivia Allen, Justin Marks, Melissa Marks, Matan Leiber-Kotz, Jay Conner, Lucia Fox-Shapiro, Julie O’Hara, Olivia Massiah, Neema Meena, Nathan Weisbrod, Emily Kilbourne, Meghan Wright, Madeline Heyman, Lena Lerner, Kira Gandolfo, Jyline Carranza, Jeremy Scheck, Vasilia Adams, Isabella Amoruso, Gabriela Rodriguez, Emily Lane, Mia Goodman, Pria Dahiya, Devin Lucas, Danny GW, Caroline Hersman, Bella Zindash, Alex Maceo, Josie Stein, Julia McGowan, and Julia Bratburd.

Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

Pippin played from January 13-15, 2017 at Act Two at Levine performing at Arena Stage. – 1101 6th Street SW, in Washington, DC. More information about Levine can be found online.

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