Pippin: Southwark Playhouse, London
Reviewed on 10th March.
Pippin, the multi-Tony Award winning musical by Grammy and Academy recipient Stephen Schwartz tells the story of one man’s journey to find himself, his place and purpose in life. Originally directed by Bob Fosse, it still is reminiscent of his modern, contemporary direction. This latest production which sees the musical’s return to London for 5 years has recently transferred from a highly praised run at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre directed by Jonathon O’Boyle.
The show, led by an enthusiastic cast, tells the tale of the exciting life and adventures of young Prince Pippin, told by a curious troupe of Victorian Vaudeville players who promise the audience ‘a finale you will remember for the rest of your lives…’
The cast are incredibly talented, the production is flashy and in your face and the songs are catchy. However something was lacking. There is no doubt that this is an entertaining show. Full of big show stopping numbers, interesting choreography and some highly comic moments. But it is hard to feel anything for the characters. The plot itself is quite confusing and whilst there is a clear journey it is hard to feel empathetic towards the main character, Pippin. You cannot fault the company as they are clearly enthusiastic, motivated and very talented under the direction of Jonathon O’Boyle but they are restricted by the book by Roger O. Hirson.
Jonathon Carlton does a great job as Pippin, travelling around to find his destiny and a worthwhile life. His vocals are solid and he adds some subtle comedic elements to the role. Genevieve Nicole is fantastic and commands the stage at all times as the leading player. Her vocals are extremely powerful and it is clear that she is well trained in the Fosse-style movements – something her countless appearances in Chicago has probably helped with.
Other key performances came from Bradley Judge who added a great comic flair to the character of Lewis whilst not being too over the top. Mairi Barclay also wowed the audience as Fastrada and Berthe. Her song ‘No Time At All’ really engages the audience and has some hilarious lines. Stephen Schwartz knows how to write great melodies and harmonies but in this musical he also demonstrates his ability for writing entertaining and witty lyrics.
The set and lighting, designed by Maeve Black and Aaron J. Dootson, really adds to the flashy appearance of the show. The limited props are used well and transitions are smooth. The small, intimate theatre is used well and means that all of the audience are involved.
Choreography, by William Whelton, certainly payed homage to Bob Fosse but also felt fresh and was executed extremely well. Especially, given the small stage.
The eight-piece band were superb. However, the whole show was very loud. This in turn meant that some of the vocals felt slightly forced. It was described as being “migraine inducing” by one disconcerting audience member. Whilst it did not overly detract from the performance, perhaps to aid the show and the audience’s hearing the volume could be notched down slightly.
Overall this production was technically fantastic. But it was lacking something. One audience member said that it felt like lots of shows and styles put together. I think this is a good way to describe it. For me, I have to have a connection with the character. Unfortunately I didn’t. However it is great entertainment and provides an enjoyable evening out.
Pippin is playing at the Southwark Playhouse until 24th March 2018. For information and tickets click here.
Photo Credit: Pamela Raith