Is it a musical quest? Is it a dancing circus? Is it a love story? Is it a philosophical discovery? Summer Repertory’s fifth and final show, “Pippin,” offers all of the above and more.
Theater-in-the-round in Santa Rosa Junior College’s Pavilion provided the best venue for this show. The bare octagonal stage containing a simple framework of scaffolding and two pipe ladders ascending 15 feet or so across from each other at edges of the stage did little to stimulate the imagination prior to the show’s beginning.
Soon this stark setting became alive with the character called the Leading Player and the ensemble. This functional background allowed fluid moment across the stage and the best seat in the house was any seat. The Leading Player (Charles Mayhew Miller), played the Chorus as his flamboyant style took command of the show at the start, served as Pippin’s guide throughout the story’s journey and acted the magician.
The show opens with the song “Magic to Do” as the Leading Player establishes the carnival tone of wonder and it closes with him and the ensemble performing their final number, “Magic Shows and Miracles.” Between comes the search for glory, knowledge and love.
The naïve and hopeful Pippin (Luke Wilburn) seeks to fulfill his dreams. He wants his “Corner of the Sky,” a song whose reprisal by the boy, Theo (Tyler Ono) brings the story full circle. In an early scene, the Leading Player advises Pippin to live a life that is extraordinary, and this leads to Pippin climbing one of the ladders while singing:” Gotta find my corner of the sky.”
Pippin’s father, Charles (Ben Hardin), represents harsh reality of the warlord conqueror Charlemagne. And Pippin’s half-brother Lewis (Cameron Blakely), not a dreamer or a thinker, lives in the present as a cold-blooded killer seeking to follow his father’s violent ways.
Fastrada (Kristen Ivy Haynes), the conniving mother of Lewis, electrifies the stage with her dance moves and her flashy personality. In contrast, Catherine (Ashley West) offers the “Simple Joys” introduced by the Leading Player, a bucolic rural life. Her best efforts come in song in a duet with Pippin, “Love Song” and a solo, “I Guess I’ll Miss the Man.”
The fourteen-member ensemble enlivens the story with circular dancing that engages the audience from any of the seating perspectives. Acrobatics climbing the pipes and somersaulting above and on the stage create a moving feast.
Director James Newman pulled the story, song, dance and circus numbers together with the help from Choreographer Eric Sciotto and Music Director Jane Best. Scenic Designer Sarah Beth Hall’s pipe setting, functional and balanced, made sense when the stage filled with performers.
Costume Designer Megan Richardson’s vision reflected James Newman’s idea that this was “a universe that you might recognize through modern Marvel movies and graphic novels.” The costumes’ flair added to the fantastic and the comic ambiance of the modern and futuristic. Lighting Designer Joseph Beumer’s efforts supported the story minute to minute as did the work of Sound Designer Ana Alex.
“Pippin” closes the Summer Repertory’s season with seven performances during the last two weeks, from Aug. 1 through Aug. 7. Ticket information available by calling 707-527-4307 or going online: theatrearts.santarosa.edu.