The International Thespian Troupe 3929 of Stanton College Prep presented their annual musical at Theatre Jacksonville on December 11, 12, 14, 2014. The 1972 hit, “Pippin,” by Stephen Schwartz and Roger Hirson, was a well-chosen selection for Stanton’s talented students. The original production ran for almost two thousand performances on Broadway and is now in a fabulous revival that has garnered multiple Tonys and rave reviews.
Directors Shirley Sacks and Jeff Grove chose a minimalist approach to the production, with an open stage and limited set pieces which included benches, a tree stump, and a bed on wheels. This was quite a contrast to last year’s “Shrek” which was filled with scenery and set pieces. Of note, five of the eight major roles in “Pippin” were played by students who appeared in “Shrek” in supporting roles. The staging of “Pippin” emphasized movement and characterization by the International Thespian Troupe 3929 of Stanton Prep.
The musical is set in 780 A.D., and is narrated by the Lead Player of a traveling troupe of actors. Isabella Martinez appears in this demanding role. She is a powerful singer and her performance was terrific. In “Shrek,” she appeared as a shoemaker’s elf. The large cast filled the stage, in colorful attention-getting costumes and makeup that appeared inspired by, among other influences, medieval costuming traditions, Steampunk, and Surrealism.
The central character in the story the troupe is presenting is Pippin, a young prince who has just graduated from the University of Padua. Riley Bean was excellent in this role and sets the story in motion when he sings “Corner of the Sky,” capturing the bewilderment of many young adults faced with planning their future. We did not recognize Riley from his role in “Shrek” where he appeared as the long-nosed Pinocchio, but did notice a remarkable resemblance to the young John Ritter of “Three’s a Crowd” fame. He confers about his future plans with his father King Charles, played by Spencer Puentes with just the right mix of arrogance and superiority. Pippin accompanies his father into battle, but is repelled by what he sees as senseless violence.
He consults with his grandmother Berthe (Kristin Oliver, who sings the show-stopper “No Time at All.” Ms. Oliver has come a long way from her role as a white rabbit in “Shrek.” Swinging Berthe advises Pippin to seek romantic encounters, but he finds they are unsatisfying. Fastrada (Bella Clements), his lovely but scheming stepmother, has her own ideas about the actions he should take, which are designed to elevate her younger son Lewis (Joshua Merchant) to the throne. Pippin even tries killing his father and becoming King, but can’t seem to master the needed bureaucratic skills, and returns the governance to his magically resurrected father.
The musical gained fame originally due to Bob Fosse’s direction and choreography, so dance numbers have always been a prominent part of the show’s appeal. We have seen the amazing talents of Choreographer Curtis Williams in a number of musicals on our local stages, and have heard him say a number of times that if students have rhythm, he can teach them to dance. Stanton’s “Pippin” delighted the audience. While the members of the large ensemble were students who were accepted at Stanton because of their scholastic abilities, they have demonstrated they can also excel in performance art.
The rear wall was used to display projected images and color mixes to reflect the on-stage action and settings, which included a large castle. The set construction was by Matt Shafer, with lighting and technical support by David Dawson.
Costumers Tracy Olin and Curtis Williams were assisted by the Costume and Make-up Crew, with Isabelle Campbell, Ariel Erazo, Yodit GerbretsadikAriel ErazoIsabelle Campbell, and Dani Goldberg. Stage Manager Sophie Higdon was assisted by Sean Doherty and Samantha Watkins.
“Pippin” was an enjoyable and entertaining evening of theatre, with a musical that was clever and embodied humor. It was obvious that the participants enjoyed performing as much as the audience enjoyed watching and listening.
The performers who made up the energetic ensemble cast included: Taylor Adams, Rebecca Berlin, Kendall Berry, Alexandru Bordanca, Jillian Christiansen, Holley Conyers, James Demps, Isabella Green, Whit Hemphill, Carrie Holton, CJ James, Jeremy Kowkabany, Sarah Leitch, Jenna Levine, Carolyn Lok, Caroline McMullen, Hannah Mendillo, Tanisha Mugwimi, Nick Pettross, Shannon Phelan, Anoosh Poorian, Isabella Puskas, Andy Ratliff, Jill Responte, Zach Rhodes, Natali Shafer, Cassidy Spencer, Nikki Stephens, Sierra Trenor, Mia White, and Anna Wilson. When we return to see next year’s musical, we hope to see many of them in major roles.