‘Pippin’ burns bright, sold-out musical succeeds

Student actors serenade the audience in a mesmerizing performance. (Janika Berridge / Photo Assistant)

Amidst purple lights, the stage sits adorned with a sun in the background in an orange amphitheater. Crew members sweep the stage and adjust the lights. A casually dressed boy stands on stage holding a script, looking lost. There is barely a sign of the journey of existential self-discovery on which the audience will soon depart.

By the first song, “Magic to Do,” it is apparent that this play is something else. The lone boy is now sitting among the audience, whilst the players — in garb that suggests that they are lost in time — serenade the crowd as well as the unnamed boy, who is pulled from his seat and into the fray. But the intimacy is palpable — the musical has already broken the fourth wall, and the audience, willing or not, is along for the ride.

The Leading Player introduces the play that the audience is about to see (remember: this is a play-within-a-play) as “Pippin: His Life and Times.”
The boy on stage in the beginning is revealed to indeed be Pippin, performed by Steven Munoz. Throughout the play, Munoz poignantly emulates the character of someone on an introspective journey.

The Leading Player, portrayed impeccably by Garrett Verdone, has unclear motives. He quips, “(Pippin) might be nervous. It’s his first time in this role.” And with that, Pippin asks, “Can I have more lights please?” What role could this be? What does it entail? With that, the play is set in motion, with questions begging to be answered.

Pippin has apparent family problems — a tyrannical king for a father (Jim Bloss), a bloodthirsty and competitive brother (Adam Ziering), and a distant and decidedly underhanded stepmother (Amber Loihle) who evokes Marisa Tomei’s character in “My Cousin Vinny.” These characters collude to disrupt Pippin’s search for a life worth living, as he moves from academia to battle glory to sexual liberty as implied by his exiled grandmother (Vianna Fagel) to an “everyday life” with a woman who loves him, Catherine (Allie Tumminia) and her son Theo (Rachel Fikslin). He finds all of these rather boring and consistently moves on, as the Players encourage him to “step into the fire” (echoing the sun motif, after all — the musical’s tagline is “Think about the sun”) for the “most perfect act ever: the Finale.” Pippin ultimately ignores this call to suicide by self-immolating and decides to pursue a “normal life” with the woman and her son, though in a plot twist, it’s Theo’s turn for an existential journey.

Audiences were mesmerized by the musical. A wide-eyed Drew Hood, freshman business major, thought it was “simply fantastic,” and Zach Errichetti, freshman political science major, called it “an amazing emotional experience that spoke on the deepest of levels.” The enthusiasm was shared by Ken Abes, freshman biology major and a player in the show. “I’m speechless … It changed the way I viewed my life and the world, too.” He added, “Never before had I experienced such a closeness with the prostaff and the rest of the cast.”

Pippin had an intangible quality that is absent many plays. The intimacy that the actors shared with the audience brought Pippin’s struggles to a very personal level, similar to reading “Catcher in the Rye.” The production (by Vianna Fagel and Chrissy Isola) and direction (by Zach Fishman and Monica Blumenstein) made the show alive, with the music (conducted by Sergio Hernandez) and choreography (Kelly Cosentino) goosebump-inducing. Extremely effective stangehandling (by Stef Grossman) ensured that the musical didn’t miss a beat. The play’s enormous success — aesthetically and artistically — was a testament to what the cast and crew could do. To see the audience so enraptured and engaged with the performance was a show in of itself. “Pippin” is the pinnacle of what theater is capable of, and it illustrated as brightly as the sun what the College’s students are capable of.