Review “Pippin” (Music Theater Works): Wacky!

Music Theater Works presents PIPPIN. 

Upon arrival, the audience is immediately engaged. The stage has brightly colored panels reminiscent of past television variety shows. Multiple screens feature 80s and 90s video snippets of culture and history. The playful mishmash sets the tone for wacky fun. The musical is a play within a play about a Prince having an existential crisis. A dynamic Sonia Goldberg (leading player) serves as narrator. She leads an energetic troupe in the retelling of Pippin’s search for meaning and purpose. Connor Ripperger is an actor playing an actor playing Pippin that is struggling with the scripted version of Pippin’s life. This story isn’t straightforward. It zigs and zags between a play and ‘putting on a play.’ This musical is truly original.

The creative team of Roger O. Hirson and Bob Fosse (book) and Stephen Schwartz (music and lyrics) conjured up this burlesque style show in the 1970s. Strong rage-against-the-establishment vibes are wrapped tightly in screwball antics. While songs like “War is a Science” and “Prayer for a Duck” reinforce the quirky absurdity, the opening number of “Magic to Do” is an upbeat tribute to theatre itself.   

Director Kyle A. Dougan orchestrates an amusing experience. Dougan’s designer team generate an outlandish spectacle. Along with Shane Cinal (scenic) and Anthony Churchill (projections), Jazmin Aurora Medina (costumes) and Alice Salazar (hair, wig, makeup) use every oddity texture and color in their makeover toolkit to deck out the ensemble in unique flair. Co-choreographers Mollyanne Nunn and Kaitlyn Pasquinelli also add to the gawking visual with feats of physicality and high-octane movements. The terrific ensemble don’t hold back in their efforts to entertain the audience.

Part of the novelty of PIPPIN is performers continuously breaking the fourth wall by addressing the audience. Goldberg, in particular, abruptly and hilariously goes from being in a play scene to explaining an actor missing their cue. A deliciously bawdy Kathleen Puls Andrade (Berthe) outrageously flirts with people onstage and offstage in “No Time at All.” Savannah Sinclair and Andrew Freeland spoof a “Succession” power grab as the wicked mother-goofy son duo. Although lampoon is definitely at the forefront of the show, there are a few quiet moments of soul-searching and tenderness. Ripperger delivers a beautiful and warm rendition in “Corner of the Sky.” And later, he and Desiree Gonzalez (Catherine) duet with a steamy and sweet “Love Song.”       

This was my first encounter with PIPPEN. Although Music Theater Works’ storytelling was visually stimulating and engaging, I found the actual story light on meaningful content. Still, its playfulness is a nice summer escape!    

Running Time: Two hours and thirty minutes includes an intermission

At North Shore Center for The Performing Arts in Skokie, 9501 Skokie Blvd.

Book by Roger O. Hirson and Bob Fosse 

Music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz 

Music directed by Justin Akira Kono

Directed by Patrick Tierney 

Co-choreographed by Mollyanne Nunn and Kaitlyn Pasquinelli 

Performances are:

Wednesdays at 1pm 

Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm 

Saturdays at 3:30pm and 8pm 

Sundays at 2pm

Thru June 1st

For more information or tickets

Production photos by Brett Beiner

For more Chicago theatre information and reviews, please visit Theatre in Chicago

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