‘Pippin’ piques life perceptions

South Charlotte Weekly

Photo courtesy of Blumenthal Performing Arts

Photo courtesy of Blumenthal Performing Arts

The Tony-award winning Broadway musical “Pippin,” directed by Diane Paulus, captivated the audience with a riveting and risqué reinvention of this 1970s original musical at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center’s Belk Theatre.

The stage came alive with bright lights, bold, colorful costumes and high-flying acrobatics as a circus troupe interacted with the crowd and led Pippin through his coming-of-age journey to become “extraordinary” during the Middle Ages.

“Lead Player” Lisa Karlin lit the stage on fire with her sizzling dance moves and sultry sounds. Karlin mastered the stage in her characterization of a provocative prowess narrator as she guided “Pippin,” the moody prince played by ABC’s “Nashville” star Kyle Dean Massey, through the temptations of fame and glory in war, the loss of inhibitions through sexual exploration and promiscuity and political righteousness and justice by literally stabbing his father King Charles in back for the crown.

Karlin‘s burlesque moves magnetically transformed each scene with a contrast of sharp movements shadowing the bewitching nature of her character, while also gyrating in motion with the sexual connotations that follow throughout the story.

The “Glory” performance by Karlin and the other players added comical antics and acrobatic stunts to enact the war scene between King Charles’ army and the Visigoths. Donning top hats and canes, the players tap danced their way through battle, providing a Stooge-like parody that left audience members in stitches over the anxious, first-time sword wielding skills of Pippin and mannerism of the now-headless enemy soldier cuddling the box that holds his talking head.

Audience members believed the head of the beheaded soldier was a stage prop, ready to become a golf ball teed off Karlin’s cane into the crowd; however, the magic of illusion and distraction brought forth a pleasant surprise when the talking head was again presented to the audience in a small trunk. This is not the only magical scene that left mouths agape and heads scratched in bewilderment.

One scene might be considered an overdone magic trick, when Pippin’s stepmother, Fastrada – played by Sabrina Harper – sends King Charles through his wardrobe on a trip and spins it around to reveal Pippin is now inside. However, the symbolism of him becoming his father makes up for the lack of originality of trap doors on a magic box.

The greatest feat of strength and balance was exhibited by in towering troupe member Dmitrious Bistrevsky, when he stood on a board above stacks of rolling metal cylinders. It was as if the whole audience held its breath bracing for him to fall, yet erupted in a roaring cheer as he managed to pull it off.

Another showstopper, Pippin’s grandmother, Berthe – played by longtime T.V. and Broadway actress Adrienne Barbeau – started out meek but built on her performance as she took on “No Time at All.” Her pointed, abrasive language and mannerisms that interlude between song verses was reminiscent of a Bette Midler production, which she pulled off flawlessly.

Anyone who can belt out a tune beautifully while hanging upside from a swing attached high in the rafters deserved the audience’s respect.

King Charles, played by John Rubinstein, the original Pippin from the 1972 Broadway performance, did a good job making the audience believe he was a self-centered, glory-driven king with a jolly nature at heart.

Fastrada, his step wife, also demanded attention as a wicked, calculative step-monster living under the façade of a loyal, proper housewife. During her “Spread a Little Sunshine” performance, her dance moves were all legs, but her acting and singing remained consistent.

Catherine, the ordinary, widowed mother – played by Kristine Reese – who pulls Pippin from an existential crisis, did a fantastic job playing the role of an innocent and a little corny, “salt of the Earth” woman. Her chemistry with Pippin during their love scene was deep as they kissed and sang “Love Song” simply and sweetly at the edge of the stage.

Pippin mastered his character’s charming and confusing fumble along his existential journey, as he seamlessly transformed his characterization act to act from small and unassuming to large and in-charge.

His most outstanding attribute was his voice. His pitch rolled smoothly from one note to the next as he flowered into his role as a king in “Morning Glory” and a lover in “Love Song.”

The story ended with a surprising twist, reversing Pippin’s extraordinary perception of grandeur and replacing it with the simplest of love. Audience members were surprised to see the stage unravel as the conclusion was revealed and the crowd was left questioning the real nature of ambition.

“Pippin” does a top-notch job of putting the idea of societal ambitions in a snow globe, shaking it up and letting the purposeful essence of reality fall in the laps of audience members.

“Pippin” will run at the Belk Theater at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center through May 24. Visit http://www.blumenthalarts.org/events/detail/pippin for more information.

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