Photo credit: Roger Mastroianni
In the history of theater, there are some choreographers who have left their distinctive mark on the art form, a mark that others can only hope to achieve. One of those choreographers is Bob Fosse, whose sinuous and startling dances have been imitated and lampooned (with love) over the years.
His art jumped into the spotlight 50 years ago with his show Pippin, the vehicle that made Ben Vereen as Leading Player a star, and it is now playing at Baldwin Wallace University. As staged by director Nathan Henry and Choreographer Gregory Daniels (who has re-staged much of signature Fosse moves along with adding his own), the play is a treat for those who have never seen Fosse live—especially since it is performed by a BWU cast of singers, dancers and actors who exude professionalism with each and every jazz-hand.
The show tells the story of Pippin (Pepin), the son of Charles the Great (Charlemagne), who in the year 780 seeks a fulfilling life full of meaning. But as he tries various options from soldiering to sex, it all comes up zeroes. He is accompanied on his journey of discovery by the Leading Player (Kris Lyons in a sleek and hypnotic performance) who serves as his mentor as well as the host and narrator of the proceedings.
Along the way, we meet various members of Pippin's clan. Other than Leading Player, Pippin's brother Lewis (an intense Zach Mackiswicz) and young Theo (Parker Towns), the major roles are shared by two different sets of actors. At this performance, the cast featured Jack Prisco as Pippin, who nailed the indecision and yearning of his character. His dad was played by Jack Borenstein, who could have taken more chances with the Charlemagne-as-doofus idea. Similarly, Reese Henrick as Grandma Berthe could have conjured a bit more old-lady schtick (Irene Ryan's grandma in "The Beverly Hillbillies," for instance)to accompany the amusing "No Time At All" number.
In truth, aside from that song and a couple other killers including "Magic To Do" and "Corner of the Sky," the score by Steven Schwartz and book by Roger O. Hirson are mostly forgettable. This is especially true in the second act where Pippin settles down to a life of domesticity and the play begins to tread water.
Yes, there's a serious story that powers Pippin, having to do with the journey of life we're all on and the dead-ends we must confront and overcome. It's a tough road.
But it would be a hell of a lot easier if we all had Bob Fosse's choreography to help us along. So, a visit to the BWU theater might just be in order.
Through November 19 at Baldwin Wallace University, Kleist Center, 95 E. Bagley Road, Berea, 440-826-2240.
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