The buzz in the room before the show was audible. The word of mouth around Pippin's opening weekend at the Butte Theater in Cripple Creek had seeped into local consciousness.
The second weekend for Pippin brought in enough locals and gamblers to fill the theater on a Saturday night, and that crowd got exactly what it came for. This musical jackpot is like hitting three sevens on a slot machine.
Pippin is a coming-of-age story narrated by the Leading Player (Kevin Pierce). Dan Hoy, a talented college student here for the summer from Baldwin Wallace University in Ohio, plays Pippin, a prince and the son of Charlemagne. Yes. That Charlemagne.
Fortunately, you don't have to know a lot about the Middle Ages to enjoy Pippin. The message here is as universal and contemporary as you will find on any stage. Pippin is trying to find his way in the world, and makes some serious mistakes in the process. Whether it's war with the Visigoths or learning to court a lady, Pippin is a classic "trial and error" learner.
Director Lysa Fox's staging here is seamless. She uses simple set pieces and creative lighting, including backlit scrims and an intimate bedroom to tell the story. Her set changes are so quick as to be hardly noticeable.
Dan Hoy's Pippin is a lovable but lost boy, searching for his "Corner of the Sky' (the signature song in the show). Hoy nails his solo early in the first act, wistfully singing the ballad with all the emotion he can muster. The spontaneous applause from the audience started even before he finished the last verse.
Hoy is eclipsed at times by Pierce, who prances, dances and enchants the audience with his attitude and narration. He is a puppet master and, like the Emcee in Cabaret, ties the story together with charm and wit.
Nick Madson (Charlemagne) is simultaneously an iron-fisted monarch and a detached father, offering no guidance to his son Pippin. Madson oozes royalty as he struts across the stage. JT Rider (Lewis) is powerful but simple, setting a dubious example for his brother Pippin.
Rebecca Myers absolutely glows as Catherine. As Theo's mother and Pippin's lover, she tries to seduce Pippin with her solo ("Kind of Woman"). Despite her claims to the contrary, Catherine is no ordinary woman. She's the special sauce that Pippin (and by extension all of us) need in our lives.
We see her beauty immediately; Pippin sees it only when forced.
There's not a weak link in this Thin Air Theatre Company cast. The Players are a four-person Greek chorus (Kathleen Macari, Connor Reilly, Madeleine Sullivan and Jeffrey Salsbury) who can steal any scene they do. Courtney Loggins (Berthe) triumphantly belts out her solo "No Time at All." Monica Titus (Fastrada) "Spreads a Little Sunshine" all over the room. Even local seventh-grader Dawson Murray (Theo) seethes with anger at Pippin.
It's difficult to hit a jackpot at the casinos, but Pippin is a genuine winner. The finale delivers a profound but simple message in stark, fiery terms.
Seeking excellence is noble, but don't forget to recognize it when you find it.
That's a powerful message, and it's delivered with passion by Thin Air at the Butte Theater.