This is it -- the cut-to-the-chase review. Because Pippin isn't perfect, but it's going to get better and as is it now, it's well worth seeing and you oughtn't to miss it.
That said, Pippin's not for everyone. It's not sugar-and-spice, chorus-line-kicking, hardee-har-har knee-slapping, dancing-in-the-aisles entertainment for the whole family. It's spooky, dark, jazzed, prodding entertainment. It's snicker and scowl and loving it all the way. Skip the matinee and see it at night when you can go back into the cold, black February without wasting the mood on a sun-loving Sunday.
If you don't like musicals, you might like Pippin. It's one of the plays so intensely associated with the vision of Bob Fosse that you just figure why bother trying without him. It's intelligent, edgy, ironical, sexy and intoxicating, and your kids will think it's a fairy tale with only a few shocking taboos, all survivable with some adolescent giggling.
Perhaps the most challenging role in the play is that of The Lead Player. David H. Corder lost his confidence -- and that of the audience -- when he stumbled on the first line of the play. He never quite recovered, which is too bad, because you could see him trying so hard. That was the problem -- all that visible effort. He was singing about magic, and he had all the right moves, but it was too much work, not enough magic. He's good enough in the part to start using confidence and assurance to enjoy his devilish role.
In the title role, Chris McCoy is suitably wide-eyed and naive as he looks for himself in barbarous and bloody battles, intrigue, politics and sex presented pastorally. His only flaw was in being overly made up. Even if he is a prince, it's easier to lend him our sympathies if he can make that connection with the less-than-extraordinary audience.
That's about it for the shortcomings. The singing is solid, the voices are strong and the dynamics are as good as they've ever been at FAC. There's the occasional stretch in register, reaching for a high note, but the soloists and the chorus work well with each other, and plenty of memorable songs emerge from McCoy, Virginia Henley as Catherine, Sue Bachman as Berthe, and Corder, who convinces us that we'd much rather be a left-handed flea, a crab on a slab on the bottom of the sea, or a newt on a root of a banyon tree than a man who never learns how to be free.
But the primary language of this story is dance, and the dancing is superb. As far as choreography in a locally produced musical, I haven't seen any better. Zetta Alderman transforms an unassuming corps of local performers into a tightly knit company that ably represents Fosse's challenging choreography. At times, the no-holds-barred approach leaves cast members breathless, but in general it is the audience who is gasping in astonishment at the sight of such finely tuned twitching and gyrating, the illusory power of connecting otherwise awkward gestures into a graceful line of expression.
The star of this production is unquestionably the chorus. They bring Bob Fosse to life on the FAC stage, giving Springs audiences a legitimate taste of his precise, isolating approach to movement. These figures are scary, like a nightmare out of A Clockwork Orange, beating you senseless with pinpoint attention to the efficiency of energy. They create the world of Pippin, establishing the atmosphere that as yet eludes the two male leads.
Pippin belongs in the triumvirate of Fosse's signature shows, alongside Chicago and Cabaret, and we should rush to the FAC for the opportunity to see this too rarely performed gem presented with such exhilarating competence.
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