Monday, October 24, 2011

'Pippin' -- even better the second time around

David Bazemore is electrifying as the Leading Player in "Pippin/"
By Cheryl Thornburg

 This is a first for me --  a second review of a show.  After leaving Tri-PAC's  "Pippin" Oct. 13, I was very impressed, but I also felt I might have missed something because there is so much going on in this multi-layered production. So I went back for a second helping of this theatrical treat Sunday Oct. 23 and it was even better.
  Although I was familiar with some of the music from this show, I had never seen it on stage or in film, so had nothing to compare it to. That can be good or bad.
  So this week out of curiosity, I rented the version featuring Tony-award winning Ben Vereen with William Katt as Pippin and Martha Raye as his grandmother, Berthe.  I can now say that Director John Moletress' interpretation of this classic is better. Its unique set and stylish lighting are the perfect backdrop for this vibrant production.
  And I honestly think David Bazemore is a better Leading Player than Ben Vereen,  I know that may be sacrilege, but Bazemore's performance is electrifying. His smooth, seductive delivery has a delightful, sinister quality to it -- absolutely mesmerizing. When he strikes a pose, silhouetted by the back-lighting, it creates an indelible image.
   I also think Ben Fried's over-the-top, show-stopping rendition of "No Time At All" is far more entertaining and memorable than Martha's Ray's version. His was one of two songs that followed me home and still pops into my head.
  The other song is Matt Kiesling's poignant  "Corner of the Sky" that is still lurking in the corner of my mind.
  One other aspect that I failed to comment on fully the first time, is the cohesive quality of the ensemble cast, Ben Fried, Drew Carr, Dane Duncan, Jordan Popky, Pat Rhoads, Kelsey Riker, Jordan Shoemaker, and Carrie Thorwarth. They seamlessly flow from one routine to another, changing characters at will, yet still remaining individuals. Each and every one carves out a character that is truly unique. They also handle the physicality of this show with ease -- whether soaring through the air -- or landing hard on the ground.
  For my first review I sat front row center with the actors at times inches from me, and witnessed some of the most focused performances I have seen in my 20 years of reviewing shows. This time,  I sat higher up in the audience and was captivated by the stylish big picture of this production.  It's truly a masterpiece.
   For those who missed it, my original review that includes ticket information is below.

Review from Friday Oct.14:
  Tri-PAC has done it again -- put on a really big show in a really small space. Its current production, "Pippin" may not be as well known as its contemporaries such as "Godspell" and "Chicago,"  but it is chock-full of great music, clever dialogue and romping good fun.
  For those unfamiliar with the show, the only way I can describe it is Monty Python meets Vaudeville. It is a multi-layered play-within-a-play with so much going on at times it's hard to take it all in. Woven into the plot are some darker moments as the title character Pippin tries to find the meaning in his life.
  Director John Moletress has managed to take this chaotic marvel and people it with talented actors that bring these quirky and memorable characters to life.
  Matt Kiesling plays Pippin the naive and idealistic son of Charlemagne who experiments with lifestyles from warrior to womanizer to power-hungry politician. Kiesling is the perfect Pippin with his youthful exuberance, his talent for physical comedy and a clear tenor that makes "Corner of The Sky," the signature song from this show, quite memorable.
  Perhaps the most intriguing character in the show is the Leading Player, the charming, somewhat seductive head of the theatrical troupe who seems to be controlling the action. David Bazemore's Player is delightful to watch.  He draws the audience into the tale with a gleam in his eye and almost catlike movements as he maneuvers others to do his bidding. The role is both physically and vocally demanding and Bazemore more than meets those demands.
  Donna Dougherty is delightfully wicked as Pippin's manipulative stepmother Fastrada. Dougherty is just plain fun to watch.  She can do it all -- sing, make people laugh, and dance. All of her talents are put to great use in "Spread A Little Sunshine," one of the standout numbers in the show.
  Fastrada's son, Lewis, is played to the hilt by Jason Burke -- which is fitting, since he has lots of sword play in some of his scenes.
  Ben Fried, a member of the ensemble cast, also plays Berthe, Pippin's grandmother, a truly memorable character, who delivers the show-stopping "No Time At All" with its infectious chorus, "It's time to start living," that had the audience singing along.
  Pippin's love interest, Catherine, is played by Carly Fried, who gets to shine in the second act with "Kind of Woman" and  "I Guess I'll Miss The Man."
  Neal Newman plays Charlemagne with pomp and circumstance and tongue firmly implanted in cheek. He's the perfect foil to Pippin's naivete.
  The youngest member of the cast, David Eurillo, plays Catherine's son, Theo, and manages to steal just about every scene he's in.
  The ensemble cast is amazing, juggling vocals, fast-paced choreography, and some of the most physically demanding comedy I've seen on a local stage.  There have got to be some bruises after the show. Hats off to Drew Carr, Dane Duncan, Jordan Popky, Pat Rhoads, Kelsey Riker, Jordan Shoemaker, and Carrie Thorwarth.
  Hats off also to the unseen orchestra that backs up the performers.
  The choreography makes this show special, as is to be expected, since Bob Fosse was at the heart of the original Broadway show. Michelle Wurtz, with help from Donna Dougherty and Kelsey Riker, choreographed complex routines that require great timing and agility and make for a very entertaining evening.
  The set is also a creative masterpiece.There are so many nooks and crannies at different levels that the audience never gets bored. There's always something going on -- even during intermission.
  "Pippin" runs weekends through Oct. 30 at the Tri-County Performing Arts Center, 245 E. High St., in Pottstown.
  Thursday performances are at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays  at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. There is an additional matinee on Saturday, Oct. 29 at 3 p.m.
  Tickets are available online at  or will be sold at the door if space is available.  Ticket prices range from $13 to $23, with discounts for students and seniors as well as groups of 10 or more. For full information check or call the theater at 610-970-1199.

For up-to-date info on area theater productions and auditions, follow me on Twitter @MercArtsCheryl


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