Here is the cast of Pembroke Pines Theatre of the Performing Arts’ production of Pippin.
By AARON KRAUSE
If you think about it, Pippin is the kind of show that seems fit for the 1960s.
Indeed, the titular character takes a stand against his royal father’s tyrannical policies. He discovers that war repulses him and even refuses to celebrate his father’s victory in battle against the Visigoths. Further, when the young man takes over as ruler, he institutes policies that run contrary to those his father enacted.
In short, Pippin’s titular character resembles many disillusioned young people of the 1960’s who opposed the Vietnam war. So, it makes sense that a director would set the show during that decade.
That is exactly what director Richard Weinstock has done with the Pembroke Pines Theatre of the Performing Arts’ (PPTOPA) vivacious and entertaining production.
Specifically, this mounting takes place during 1967’s “Summer of Love.” A rebellious spirit suffuses PPTOPA’s professional production, which runs through April 30 in the company’s theater space. A spirit of solidarity is also evident. For instance, at the beginning, cast members light each other’s candles. In addition, they sing and dance in unison while wearing colorful and period-specific costumes which Weinstock designed.
An explosion of lights illuminates the stage at times, lending the production energy and color. The source of that lighting is, at times, a disco ball, befitting the time period. During quieter scenes, the lighting is appropriately dimmer. The lighting designer is Michael Graham.
The sexy, confident, and athletic dance moves that the triple threat performers deftly execute befit their characters. Also, at times, the choreography by Del Marrero calls to mind the style of original Pippin director/choreographer Bob Fosse. The cast members boast impressive singing voices, and recorded tracks accompany the actors.
PPTOPA’s production plays out against a backdrop of boxed-shaped signs such as one reading “Summer of Love.”
The Summer of Love was a social phenomenon that occurred during the summer of 1967. That was when as many as 100,000 people, mostly young individuals sporting hippie fashions of dress and behavior, gathered in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. The Summer of Love encompassed the hippie music, hallucinogenic drugs, anti-war, and free-love scene throughout the west coast and as far away as New York City.
PPTOPA’s production does not appear to take place in San Francisco, or any other specific location. Instead, John Blessed’s set comprises heart shapes and square-shaped signs featuring slogans appropriate for the “Summer of Love.” On either side of the signs rest staircases of which the director and cast make good use. In addition, structures resembling boxes dot the stage. These allow the director to highlight the performers by having them stand upon them. For instance, the titular character stands atop one of the boxes while speaking at a rally decrying his tyrannical father’s policies. While standing on the box, the title character speaks through a megaphone.
For those unfamiliar with Pippin, librettist Roger O. Hirson based the show on real-life figures from the Middle Ages. For instance, Pippin (777-810) was the second son of the Frankish emperor, King Charlemagne (aka Charles the Great or Charles I).
While history obviously inspired Hirson, whose libretto includes material from Fosse, the librettist does not try to be historically accurate.
Pippin takes the form of a play-within-a-play and includes appealing metatheatrical moments. Specifically, a touring troupe of actors arrive to perform the musical, Pippin. The troupe’s leader is the unnamed “Leading Player.” He, or in this case, she, is an ultimate ringleader who guides the titular character through his own story.
The “Leading Player,” a mysterious character heading the mysterious troupe, is charismatic, manipulative, and obsessed with putting on a great show for the audience. The character may even harbor malevolent intent.
Contrastingly, the titular character harbors nothing but good intentions. However, he suffers from existential angst. Specifically, he, like many other young people, is not sure what he wants to do with his life and seeks fulfillment.
When the show begins, he has just returned from the University of Padua, where he was scholar of the house. While he is directionless, he knows he does not want to waste his life in pursuit of “common things.” Instead, he seeks to do something fulfilling and extraordinary.
Pippin’s noodle-thin plot follows the title character as he wonders what to do with his life. His search takes him to his free-spirited, vigorous grandmother, who advises her grandson to live in the moment, and eventually to a farm. While there, the titular character briefly lives and works with the land’s owner, a widow, and her young son.
On the surface, Pippin seems like a simple story about a young man wondering what to do with his life. But if you dig deeper, you may uncover timely and timeless themes such as the horrors of war, the presence of tyranny in society, existential angst, life’s beauty in its simplicity, coming of age, a shortage of role models and guidelines for young adults, and feelings of hopelessness among young people. Certainly, the titular character appears to despair as he comes up empty in his search for fulfillment. Also, he does not exactly have a positive role model in his distracted father.
Of course, Pippin is far from a depressing show. On the contrary, under Weinstock’s direction, PPTOPA’s production is moving, energizing, and life-affirming.
Unquestionably, we feel better after we meet the title character’s grandmother. She is a free-spirited, youthful granny with a zest for living and an optimistic outlook.
In PPTOPA’s production, a nimble Lory Reyes imbues Pippin’s grandmother, Bertha, with spunk, a youthful, free spirit and a hint of rebellion, suggesting that she may be a hippie. With wavy blonde hair and a pep to her step, Reyes’ granny is full of life, wisdom, and encouragement.
As part of the production’s physical choreography, a few actors lift Reyes high and swing her back and forth. Such maneuvering deftly reinforces Bertha’s youthful, vigorous demeanor. She may be a senior citizen, but Reyes’ Bertha has a whole lot more living to do.
Bertha leads her grandson (and us) in singing the chorus to the song, “No Time at All.” The lyrics might not be particularly inventive (“It’s time to start livin’, time to take a little from this world we’re given”), but the optimistic and upbeat tone of this song will surely invigorate you. So, too, will the ingratiating opening number, “Magic to Do.” During the latter, the troupe of actors try to put us in the mood for some theatrical magic.
Undoubtedly, one of the stars of this production is Christina Carlucci. She portrays the Leading Player slyly, seductively, and confidently. To her credit, the performance looks and sounds natural; nothing seems forced.
Carlucci also imbues this enigmatic character with an air of mystery. With dark hair and piercing eyes that sometimes look otherworldly, Carlucci lends the Leading Player an intensity that might suggest Wicked’s Elphaba during moments of intense concentration.
As King Charlemagne, Lito Becerra lends the character an indifference that suggests he has no interest in his son…only in himself.
CristaMarie DeVito invests the title character’s stepmother, Fastrada, with an appropriate conniving air and a seductiveness that befits her character.
Anna Cappelli lends Catherine a bubbly charm, elegance, and cheeriness. However, Cappelli looks young for the role. Meanwhile, Jorge Amador looks too old as Catherine’s young son, Theo. This would seem to be a perfect role for a child actor.
As the titular character, Stefano Galeb conveys a restless energy, determination, and an eagerness to experience something extraordinary in life. Galeb is also convincingly distraught when the title character can’t find purpose in life. But the lad is also naïve and innocent, two characteristics missing from Galeb’s portrayal.
All in all, though, PPTOPA’s production of Pippin is a hit that will entertain and invigorate you.
Pembroke Pines Theatre of the Performing Arts’ production of Pippin runs through Sunday, April 30. Remaining performances are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, as well as 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets cost $35 for adults, and $25 for students, senior, and industry people. Performances take place at the Susan B. Katz Theater at River of Grass Arts Park. The address is 17195 Sheridan St. in Pembroke Pines. For tickets, go to Welcome to PPTOPA or call (954) 437-4884.