Where: Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd. (University Heights)
When: Thurs. – Sat. at 8 p.m., Sun. at 2 p.m. through Oct. 14
Marvelous cast supports the adorable Louis Pardo as lead
By Charlene Baldridge | SDUN Theater Critic
The approach to Diversionary’s “Pippin” was made with fear and trembling. The opinionated queens with whom I frequently have coffee, had told me how awful they thought the show was and how much they abhorred the casting of Louis Pardo in the title role. Au contraire, mon chères amis.
Excuse me, lovely ones, some of whom saw the original with John Rubinstein as Pippin – I saw the tour in the cavernous, then-California Theatre with Ben Vereen as the Leading Player – Pardo is adorable as the insecure youth who hits the road seeking his purpose. I adore his tight dark curls and his sharp features.
Granted, to be truly beautiful his voice might have a little less edge and nasality, but his diction is impeccable, his pianissimo is gorgeous, and the character he creates is fascinating and deeply seated in age-old literary traditions of coming-of-age angst.
Diversionary’s production of the classic 1972 Broadway “Pippin” (music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Roger O. Hirson) is director James Vasquez’s contemporary take on the piece. It has the current Schwartz-sanctioned ending.
Except for the Leading Player, Vasquez’s seven “players” – like a pickup game of hoops on a playground – are ragtag, interchangeably playing guard, center and forward. The visual effect, supported by meticulous choreography of every moment, is rife with gay undertones, cross-gender attire and overt S&M, as the innocent Pippin experiences war, the counsel of a jaded grandmother (Wendy Maples, whose ”No Time at All” is a highlight of the show), and joys of carnal love with a young widow named Catherine (attractive, vocally gifted Megan Carmitchel).
Handsome and appealing, the youthful Hunter Schwartz is darling as Catherine’s son, Theo. Theo and Pippin’s “Prayer for a Duck” scene, performed with utter sincerity, is a winner.
The action is controlled by a dominatrix Leading Player (the original was Ben Vereen) portrayed by the relaxed, utterly in-control Courtney Corey, a seasoned performer of indefatigable vocal steel and fabulous body moves. Andy Collins ranges from imperiously cold to surprisingly touching as King Charlemagne, father of Prince Pippin. As Pippin learns, it’s not easy being wise, generous and judicious simultaneously.
Luke Jacobs is fetching and bitchy as Queen Fastrada, her eyes glittering with lust for her son, Lewis (fabulous Tony Houck, hilarious in Lewis’s idiotic machismo), whom she is hell bent upon installing as king.
Musically, the show is in great hands with musical director Charlie Reuter, who plays piano (alternately, Lyndon Pugeda at some performances), with an assist from Andrew Michel on guitar (Adam Michel at some performances) and Charlie Weller on drums. If microphones are used in Kevin Anthenill’s sound design, they are undetectable. The balance is good.
Sean Fanning’s set, composed of life’s electronic detritus, is fascinating, as are Shirley Pierson’s costumes. Annette Ye deserves credit as co-choreographer with Vasquez. It’s an entirely new, clever and recognizable movement vocabulary they’ve wrought, as Bob Fosse directed the original production.
By now, you’ve guessed that I had a marvelous time at “Pippin.” Don’t let the old queens put you off. Decide for yourselves.
My favorite interval moment: sweet young thing asks her date what the set could possibly have to do with the story. “Ask the woman next to you,” her escort advised.
“Do you come here often?” she asked. “Does it always look this way?”
“No, it’s all electronic junk,” I said, suggesting she read the program note. As the note suggests, the production is performed amid what amounts to an art installation. And as wrongly suggested by her attendant, it is not historical. But it won’t hurt to read up on Charlemagne.