Review: ‘Pippin’ at The George Washington University

“Join us,” cry the players, led by sophomore Madeline Winstel, in George Washington University’s performance of Pippin. In the show’s opening number “Magic to Do,” the players invite the audience to witness a story of intrigue, humor, romance, illusion, war, and murder.

Pippin and Company. Photo by Elena Moore.
The Company of ‘Pippin.’. Photo by Elena Moore.

With Composer Stephen Schwartz and Book writer Roger O. Hirson, Pippin tells the story of a young man in search of his purpose in the world. Of course, it’s difficult to speak about Pippin without mentioning the involvement of Bob Fosse, the show’s original director. It’s known fact that Fosse took this simple story and added his own signature, dark style to the piece, much to the annoyance of the writers. Fosse took the show in a completely different direction, turning this cute, simple show into a dark and cynical farce.

Unfortunately, The first act got off to a bit of a rough start with some sound problems and a lack of energy among the cast. Once the show went on and the actors got settled, I found the show quite entertaining and in the spirit of Fosse. Director Roberta Gasbarre kept true to the show’s dark intent and worked well with her cast. That being said, the show felt a little dry in the humor. Jokes that usually get big laughs fell flat. Choreographers  Michael Bobbitt and Raquis Da’Juan Petree’s choreography was sharp and focused, with some great dancing.

I’ve seen a few productions of Pippin, and this was  the smallest cast I’ve seen (there are 18 people in total). This show works best when the cast acts as an ensemble, and this ensemble works it. They were tight and appropriately entertaining and creepy. Patrick O’Donnell was the show’s music director and he and his fine group of musicians produced fine accompaniment and provide a solid sound when the cast sang.

I was impressed to find that Set Designer Molly Hall was a student. The set consisted of handsome looking wooden platforms that the cast could easily climb. It was plain and very effective, and brought a lot of atmosphere to the show. Similarly Sigridur Johannesdottir’s costumes were basic, but important in the barebones feel of the show. My favorite costume was the red and black dress worn by Fastrada, Pippin’s stepmother.

As the Leading Player, Winstel was charming and commanding, which is important for the show. I do wish that the arrangements for her songs were transposed up because has some problems hitting some of the notes in certain songs. Still, Winstel made it work. She had a nice command and could dance, as in the song “Glory.” Steven Kelly played Pippin and after some  hesitance in his vocals, he settled in the role, and he was quite endearing as the confused Pippin. His performances of “With You” and “Extraordinary” were well-executed and funny.

The Company of 'Pippin.' Photo by Elena Moore.
The Company of ‘Pippin.’ Photo by Elena Moore.

Other standouts among the cast included Julia Barrett as Pippin’s grandmother Berthe, who brought down the house with her song “Just No Time At All.” Daisy Getz plays Catherine, Pippin’s love interest, and she brought a nice humanity and sweetness to the role. Daniel Fanelli played Charlgmagne, Pippin’s father. Funny and charming, Fanelli gave my favorite performance. Emma Vollmer played Fastrada, Pippin’s scheming stepmother. Her deliciously wicked ballad of “Spread a Little Sunshine” was fun and bubbly.

I did have fun watching the performance of Pippin at GWU. So join the players at George Washington University and check out Pippin.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, with an intermission.

pippin-728-x-90

Pippin plays through Sunday, November 6, 2016, at The George Washington University’s Marvin Theatre – 800 21st Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202)-994-0995, or purchase them online.