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‘Pippin’ musical in DENNIS is edgy allegory

by Gwenn Friss, Cape Cod Times

DENNIS ― Famed choreographer Bob Fosse directed “Pippin” when it first appeared on Broadway 51 years later, Fosse’s distinctive style ― sexy with a touch of dark danger ― is all over Eventide Theatre Company’s production of the magical musical.

And it works.

Fosse’s call for sharply angled knees and elbows, with occasional jazz hands and perfect rhythm, starts early and especially shows in “Manson Trio,” a dance of the leading player(s) and one member of the troupe. It is precisely turned out.

Noting in the program that the leading player ― a guide to the story of “Pippin”  ― is not a gender-specific role, Eventide Executive Artistic Director Donna Wresinksi cast both a man and a woman in the role.

The interaction between Alex Valentine and Morgan Dexter is wonderful, both in what they say and what they simply show with body language.

What is ‘Pippin’ about?

Costume designer Tami Trask Good has performers in fishnets and hi-cut leotards, which evoked thoughts of another Fosse hit, “Cabaret” where Nazis were the advancing threat. Here, in this coming-of-age story, the danger is in simply growing up and not falling in with the wrong crowd. 

If you think adulting is hard, you should see how difficult it is for Pippin, son of King Charlemagne, to find his musical “Corner of the Sky.”

The show: “Pippin,” music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz; book by Roger O. Hirson; presented by Eventide Theatre Company on the Gertrude Lawrence Stage at Dennis Union Church. Directed by Donna Wresinksi, music direction by Malcolm Granger, choreography by Johanna Stipetic.

What it’s about: Based loosely on historical figures, Pippin (Max Dexter) finishes his schooling and comes home as King Charles’ (Alex Lucchesi) eldest son. He tries taking his father’s job (Charlemagne in real life) and remaking the kingdom; when that doesn’t work, he spends a year with a widow and her son, but then leaves them and tries joining the traveling actors and nearly dies trying to impress the troupe in this visually stunning allegory.

High points and low: Kaleigh Mason, playing the widow Catherine, has a lovely voice and fine comic timing. Dexter, whom the program notes as having started his acting career on this stage at age 5, is fearlessly physical, being thrown around the stage after he decides chasing all women is part of his growing up.  Dexter’s voice is pleasant but not as controlled as that of his co-star.

As Pippin’s live-life-to-the-fullest grandmother, Bertha, veteran performer Lynne Johnson is clearly comfortable on stage and having the time of her life. With her harem-like costume, she is a brunette Barbara Eden in TV’s “I Dream of  Jeannie.” Bertha is happy, spicy, lusty and probably inappropriate for kids under 10.

The band sounded great, especially keyboardist Misao Koyama who played nearly every moment of “Pippin” for two hours or so.

A note: “Pippin” is magical, funny and absurd, making the first act feel a bit disjointed. But the ending was serious, stunning and totally enthralling, which the audience rewarded with several minutes of absolute silence as it unfolded.

Interesting note: Ben Vereen was the leading player in the 1972 original cast and kept the role for the 1981 movie.

Almost forgot: One character is left lying on stage during intermission and, on opening night, a couple of theatergoers took a selfie with his “body.” Not as grim as it sounds, just part of the fun.

Go or no go? If you enjoy the sound and feel of being at a carnival, you will especially enjoy this coming-of-age tale, which Eventide presents with energy and creativity. Theater organizers said it was also the most costly show Eventide has ever done.

When and where: “Pippin” at Eventide Theatre Company, 713 Main St., Dennis, 508-233-2148, $35 general admission, through May 12, 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays, 2 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sunday, May 12. Performers are doing a talk-back after the Sunday, May 5, sold-out performance. There is a waiting list. More info: eventidearts.org

We are members, but we have decided to pay the full price as a donation to Eventide for all the wonderful experiences you have given us. You are a remarkable company and continue to grow and delight us with every production you have done. Thank you.

Judy D

Eventide Theatre Company is a 501(c)3 independent theatre located in the heart of Dennis Village and is known for presenting  thought-provoking plays, concerts, lectures, and mixed media events. Annually Eventide hosts the Kaplan Playwriting/New Plays competition.