Words: Simon Button; pictures: provided/Edward Johnson
As director Steven Dexter notes in the programme, Pippin is a show that “is up for interpretation, as the many previous productions prove.” Trouble is, many of those previous productions - such as a video game-themed one at the Menier Chocolate Factory and a cabaret-style one at Southwark Playhouse - have been misguided messes.
But when it’s done right, as it was in the extravagant circus-themed 2013 Broadway revival, this musical by Wicked and Godspell composer Stephen Schwartz is a joy. And the scaled-down version currently playing at the Charing Cross Theatre is as joyful as Pippin gets.
Genevieve Nicole in Pippin (Photo: Edward Johnson)
Director Dexter has hit upon the genius idea of setting a show that premiered in the early 1970s a few years earlier during the 1967 'Summer of Love' when the flower power hippy movement was in full flow and Hair was causing a sensation. Thus we get a group of travelling players dropping in to tell the tale of Prince Pippin with flowers in their hair, dipping in and out of numerous characters with the clever use of props (tambourines for crowns, metal poles for guns and swords), and a few accessories.
Having played a limited run in the garden theatre of Vauxhall’s Eagle last year with a cast of six, it now features eight outstanding performers who bring the tale to vivid, vivacious life.
Said tale is a bit of an odd one. Pippin, the son of Middle Ages warmonger Prince Charlemagne, dreams of being extraordinary, is enlisted into battle, commits patricide yet yearns for love and peace, whilst being hectored by a Leading Player to stick to a script that gradually begins to unravel.
But the cast is so engaging, funny, and spirited and they deliver Schwartz’s clever and catchy score with such gusto that this production of Pippin is a sheer delight from start to finish.
Ryan Anderson in Pippin (Photo: Edward Johnson)
Ryan Anderson makes for an endearing hero and nails such anthems as ‘Corner of the Sky’ and ‘Morning Glow’. Daniel Krikler conveys Charlemagne’s megalomania to hilarious effect and Ian Carlyle is Fosse-worthy as the sexy, sassy Leading Player.
Gabrielle Lewis-Dodson has some slinky dance moves, Alex James-Hatton’s aw-shucks grin is put to perfect use, Natalie McQueen (so brilliant in Kinky Boots and 9 to 5) is in stunning voice, and Jaydon Vijn transforms himself into an adorable kid.
Then there’s Genevieve Nicole’s show-stealing turn as Pippin’s go-getter of a grandmother, whose rendition of ‘No Time at All’ is as comical as its message to lighten up and live life to the full is a very timely one.
These exceptionally talented actors start the show declaring that they’ve got ‘Magic To Do’. True to their word, they deliver something magical indeed.
Pippin is at the Charing Cross Theatre, London until 14 August. For great deals on tickets and shows click here.
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