What more does a man who has everything want? This is one of the questions posed by Roger O. Hirson’s “Pippin,” whose latest incarnation is being put on by Beari Productions. Pippin is a product of the narcissistic ’70s and concerns itself much with a pampered young man’s quest for fulfillment, or maybe something worthwhile to do.
Snarky and enjoyable now, the original, choreographed by Bob Fosse, was supposed to be unsettling. To the young and confident director Jeremy Lardieri’s credit, he does allow a few mildly disquieting moments near the end.
The play is gleefully ahistorical. In this musical, Pippin, played brilliantly by Robert Ariza, is the son of Charlemagne, the Holy Roman Emperor. The characters probably have nothing in common with their real life counterparts and one can’t imagine the real Pippin (there were actually two of them) wallowing in self-pity the way this chap does. But no matter — Ariza, with his lean good looks and beautiful soaring tenor, wallows in the best way possible.
He’s supported by a strong cast as well. Kevin McAuley is slappable as Lewis, his spoiled and bloodthirsty half-brother. Paul Morisi makes for an easygoing and self-assured Charlemagne. He’s so self-assured that he can pray to God on his knees, then turn around and slaughter his own people, much less the invading Huns and Visigoths. (The play has much to say about war). He’s so easy going that after Pippin shivs him, he simply pulls the knife out of his back and hands it back to his son. “That’s okay,” he says to the boy when he apologizes. “Just don’t let it happen again.”
The songs, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and with Alan Kingsley as the musical director, are far less ironic than the book, and Ariza gives them a genuine yearning. “Pippin” also breaches the fourth wall now and then in ways that the audience isn’t expecting.
Monica N. Ortiz makes a vampy, scheming Fastrada, Charlemagne’s second wife, eager to put her son Lewis on the throne. Francesca Negron is warm, with a lovely singing voice, as Catherine, the widow with the large estate who literally picks the despairing Pippin out of the gutter and brings him into her house. J.K. Larkin, who was outstanding in an earlier production of “On Golden Pond,” is excellent here as her young son.
The chorus (Emily Kate Butera, Maggie Mae Cronin, Stephanie Cruz, Jessica Lausell and Kaitlyn Murtaugh) is led by a wonderfully cynical Dominique Cuoco, who promises the audience the best climax ever at the beginning of the play and grows more and more agitated as it looks like the spectacular grand finale isn’t going to happen, and her actors aren’t going to cooperate. But, the play seems to ask, isn’t that life?
The crew, as usual with Beari productions, works the magic of creating a great show out of very little. The stage is painted black, and is basically bare. Alison Laird and Stephanie Marabito’s costumes are minimal, Jimmy O’Neill’s lighting design has moments of drama near the end, with producer Debbie Bendana working the spotlight. By the way, most of the cast are new faces and according to the production notes their average age is about 20. Even more reason for awe.
“Pippin,” anchored in its time as it is, is still a worthy show. It’s at Trinity Lutheran Church and presented through special arrangement with Music Theatre International.
If You Go
When: Remaining dates March 26, 8 p.m., and March 27, 3 p.m.
Where: Trinity Lutheran Church, 63-70 Dry Harbor Rd., Middle Village
When: April 2, 8 p.m.; April 3, 3 p.m.
Where: All Saints’ Church, 214-35 40th Ave., Bayside
Cost: $18, $16 for seniors and children
©2011 Community News Group
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