One of the rare positives in theatreland over this past year has been the unexpected productions that have popped up to fill spaces while we wait for everything to fully reopen. One of these was the Stephen Schwartz classic Pippin, which was re-imagined by Steven Dexter for a new production at the pop up Garden Theatre in Vauxhall last year. That production has now grown to play a limited season at the Charing Cross Theatre over the summer.
One year shy of its 50th anniversary, Pippin was first performed on Broadway in 1972. Dexter re-imagines the show to be told by a group of hippie travelers in the summer of love in 1967. The unique take on the story brings new depth to the classic musical and draws instant similarities to Hair. The space in the theatre has been transformed to create a immersive atmosphere with the show staged in the round making sure you are never too far from the action.
Ryan Anderson returns to the titular role of the young Prince, following last years London run. Oozing charisma and charm, he ensures the audience are in the palm of his hand early on with a note-perfect version of the timeless classic 'Corner Of The Sky'. Later in the production, he showcases fantastic moves as well. Truly a star in the making.
The role of the leading player, most recently played by a woman, is this time played by Ian Carlyle, perfectly encapsulating the mystery and magic of the character, and opening the show with a mesmerizing 'Magic To Do'. For last years production, the cast had to be reduced to six - this time we are back up to eight with Daniel Krikler returning to the role of Pippin's father Charles, brilliantly controlling the cast with his one song early in the show. Alex James-Hatton plays Pippin's brother Lewis with Gabrielle Lewis-Dodson as Fastrada and Jaydon Vijn capturing hearts and forming a fantastic double act with his pet duck as Theo.
West End leading lady Natalie McQueen has a small but memorable role as Catherine, delivering a rousing vocal on 'I Guess I'll Miss The Man', but the standout moment without a doubt goes to Geneveive Nicole as Pippin's grandmother Berthe. With perfect comic timing and some excellent one liners, Geneveive leads the audience in a genius singalong for standout moment 'No Time At All' instructing them "I know you've got masks on so I really need you to project". It would take only the most joyless cynic to not grin away at her flawless and scene-stealing performance.
Among the highlights in the show are stunning choreography from Nick Winston, performed with complex precision. With gorgeous lighting and fantastic staging including a brilliant use of a parachute which will surely take you back to your school days, this production takes what the Garden Theatre teased in their run last year and builds on it to make it bigger and better than ever before. The use of space in the theatre is extremely clever, with characters climbing ladders, appearing in boxes behind the audience and generally circling the stage interacting with the audience regularly. If you don't like shows where the fourth wall is broken, Pippin is not the show for you. The wall is absolutely torn down here!
Fantastically funny at times, lines like "When the King makes budget cuts, the arts are the first to go" definitely hits differently now than it would have pre-pandemic. I have seen multiple productions of Pippin and my one complaint is always its pacing issues. Act 1 is far stronger than act 2, with the shows most memorable songs book-ending the entire show. This production, however, does the best that it can with these issues and almost miraculously makes it seem like a more consistently strong piece.
This production is easily the best production of Pippin I have seen to date. This is down to the fantastic staging and incredible cast whose joy leaps off the stage back into the audience. While there is still social distancing in place for a couple more weeks, it felt therapeutic to be in an immersive environment where the barriers between performer and audience are broken down. Like Pippin himself, this show has at times in the past struggled to find its true purpose - but with this production, they have well and truly found their corner of the sky.
Pippin runs at the Charing Cross Theatre until August 14th. Tickets from http://www.pippinonstage.com/