FRANKLIN, Tenn. – Pippin has tried (and often found) its corner of the sky since the musical hit Broadway in 1972. It certainly soars to the heights at Boiler Room Theatre.
The imaginative directing vision of Paul J. Cook has transformed the strolling players of the Stephen Schwartz/Roger O. Hirson/Bob Fosse smash into circus performers. That touch enhances the irreverence without removing the notes of menace that make this work darker and deeper than it appears at first glance.
The heavily fictionalized story of Charlemagne’s oldest son Pippin (played in his professional debut by Josh Lowery), adorned with 1970s-pop-style music, revolves around the title character’s search for meaning. He tries everything from war to art to sex, led on by a maniacally-smiling circus ringmaster known as the Leading Player (Billy Ditty).
Should he depose his father (W. Scott Stewart) and establish justice for all? Should he savor life without care as grandma Berthe (Dan McGeachy) advises? Should he settle down to the simple life with the lovely Catherine (Rosemary Fossee) and her son Theo (Hayden Gill)? Or should he follow the Leading Player into the unforgettable finale?
Part of what makes this Pippin sizzle is the homage Cook and his collaborators pay to the vision of the show’s creators. Choreographer Holly Shepherd knows that “Manson Trio” and other movements from the bawdy, bold and athletic Fosse canon are musts, and with veteran triple-threats like Vicki White and Corrie Miller in the cast such moments are thrilling.
White, Miller and their castmates can indeed dance, sing and act with equal appeal. Lowery is a wide-eyed gangly youth whose earnest and sweet rendition of “Corner of the Sky” makes his search for meaning feel real even within Pippin’s play-within-a-play conceit; Stewart is the boss with basso whose rich voice makes “War is a Science” and other numbers a delight; McGeachy is a hoot in the “No Time at All” sing-along; and Gill is a boy with the timing of a mature actor in his engaging portrayal of duck-loving Theo.
Reischa Feuerbacher deserves appreciation for her delicious turn as Charlemagne’s scheming wife Fastrada. Her angelic vibrato offers a wonderful tonal counter-point to her character’s disingenuous “Spread a Little Sunshine.”
What to say about Fossee? As usual she’s excellent. Performers twice her age rarely possess the combination of talent, timing, poise and presence Fossee has. And when she combines with Lowery on Act II’s “Love Song” it’s a match made in theatrical heaven.
Last, but decidedly not least, is Ditty. It’s been apparent for a long time Ditty can do virtually anything onstage or off to make a show sparkle, and in Pippin he fills each moment with pitch-perfect meaning. A dancer, a singer, an actor – those aren’t just titles for Ditty. His picture should be by those words in the dictionary.
Jamey Green and his bandmates – Rick Malkin, Doug Bright, Dale Herr and Tom McGinley – once again have the joint jumping. Nathan Hamilton’s set would make the Ringling Brothers proud; Lynda Cameron-Bayer has outfitted the players with her eye for character-framing garb as sharp as ever.
How does Boiler Room Theatre keep producing so many wonderful moments show after show? There’s probably more than one answer to that question. One thing’s for sure: After 12 years this Pippin shows BRT still has plenty of magic to do.
Pippin continues through July 28 at Boiler Room Theatre (The Factory at Franklin, 230 Franklin Rd., Bldg. Six). Performances are at 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. One Thrifty Thursday show is set for July 26 at 8 p.m. and there will be one Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. July 22. Get tickets ($27; $25 for seniors and students; $21 for children under 12; Sunday matinee tickets are $2 less each; all Tuesday shows are two-for-one at $27 with no other discounts; Thursday tickets are $17) or more information at (615) 794-7744 or www.boilerroomtheatre.com.