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When you talk about great theater that has been performed not just on Broadway or London’s West End, but around the world, Pippin is one show that will always come up as one of the great one’s. Pippin is a show that has a little something for everyone… good songs, staging, and a very interesting story. It is the story about Charlemagne, or King Charles The First. Charlemagne was a religious man, he spread Christianity over Saxony and much of Western Europe in the 700s. He was King of the Franks, King of the Lombard’s, and emperor of the Romans in 800 AD.
Over the years, the tale has grown greater, and on Broadway and elsewhere the show has grown more and more campy as it get’s produced. Just four years ago Pippin played on Broadway, and the show was full of campiness as was last night’s performance at The Bergen County Players in Oradell, New Jersey. Pippin in its original form was more serious, it stressed Pippin’s questions to life, his worries and fears. As Pippin went through his life, we witnessed what most young men go through; more so that he will one day be king. His father tries to teach him the ways of the world, so that when his time comes, he will be able to be the best king that he can.
With usual antagonists and protagonists, Pippin is confronted with issues that he doesn’t always see. His half brother Louis hates him for obvious reasons, as does his step mother. Pippin is a soft, caring person, and challenges and threats go unnoticed to this naive boy. He questions everything in his life, including how his father runs his kingdom. The King who is very attuned to his son’s gentleness, points out that things are not as easy as they seem and that if he is to one day be king, he must take the good of the kingdom first and foremost above everything.
Pippin is a challenging show, particularly for theaters that have smaller stages, local actors who try to perform this larger than life musical. I was amazed at how well The Bergen County Players did in its effort putting on Pippin. The musical’s stale worth is the Leading Player. Without a great leading Player, the show is useless. Kimberly Olson Bunker knocked this role out of the park. A great singer, dancer, funny and poised, Bunker gave a first rate performance; as did Pippin (Tom Kiely) and the King (Mark Bogosian). All three put in an exceptional effort, and make this Pippin a top notch show. It also goes to say that the ensemble did a superb job as well. Funny and talented, this cast rocked the house with terrific singing and dancing. Most of the night got on in a frenetic upbeat way.
Staging and costumes are a demanding part of this behemoth of a musical. Gerard Bourcier’s set designs were as incredible, the best I have seen at The Players. With many sets and interesting ones at that, Bourcier made this Pippin a carnival-like show, very engaging and fun. The costumes and Makeup by Maureen Mulvihill were spectacular. Direction and Choreography were equally as fun in this campy evening. The comedy and dancing keep coming; as do the songs, the beautiful songs well sung by this impressive cast. The most memorable songs of the night were: “Magic To Do,” “Corner Of The Sky,” “Glory,” “With You,” “And There He Was,” and “Love Song.”
Much credit for this upbeat musical to the lighting. Hitting the stage with dual lights, this creative team was able to draw the attention to actors, the show’s great costumes and make up, and the show’s magnificent set. Much detail was put into this show; the show’s direction, its dancing and singing were, for a Community Theater, spectacular.
Pippin at times did have some cracks in it, however. At times it seemed that the cast was going through the motions. Unlike last year’s production of “Spamalot,” this Pippin dragged at times, its slowness was noticed three times throughout the performance, and while short, it did damper the musical somewhat.
Done like true professionals, this Pippin will be up for numerous Perry