I have gorged on hundreds of musicals over my lifetime. I must admit however, that up until taking in Summer Stock Stage‘s production of “Pippin” Sunday, at Park Tudor School, I had never seen the show before. I am so happy I waited, though, because not only did SSS do a fresh take on a musical that premiered on Broadway in 1972 it was interpreted by some of the most talented young performers I have ever seen. That declaration may be viewed as mere hype, but if you have ever been exposed to this organization that provides elevated level professional theatre experiences for teenage students in Central Indiana, you will agree that my words ring true.
And what a great learning experience for the young performers on stage and the many who were present at Sunday’s full house matinee to be exposed to this musical. It uses the premise of a mysterious performance troupe, led by a Leading Player, to tell the story of Pippin, a Siddhartha- like young prince who goes on an existential search for meaning and purpose.
Like every Summer Stock Stage I have ever seen, it is the professional polish of both the performances and the technical elements which always astound me, and this one was no exception. Directed by well-known, respected, local professional actor Charles Goad; produced by Summer Stock Stage co-founder Emily Ristine Holloway; with SSS co-founder Jeanne Bowling serving as music director, the high caliber quality of the production was practically assured.
Goad couldn’t have done a better job of casting the leads and the entire ensemble for that matter, all of whom turned in splendid performances. But making a special impact were the following with whom I deeply connected due to the multi-dimensional qualities they brought to their characterizations.
John Collins was deeply affecting as the guileless and angst-ridden Pippin who first undertakes a journey to find significance yet falls into adversity and disillusionment before finding happiness in a simple, ordinary life. Collins turned in a near flawless vocal and dramatic performance that will be long remembered for its honesty. His rendition of “Corner of the Sky” was a highlight of the show.
Turning in a powerful performance as the Leading Player was Chase Infinti Payne. Strong in stage presence, Payne was very effective in her role as the charming master manipulator, alternately calm and hot tempered, who serves as the narrator of the story.
If ever there was a showstopper it was during “No Time at All” during which Courtney Krauter as Pippin’s colorful, free-spirited grandmother Berthe along with The Boys, exalts Pippin to lighten up and not take life so seriously. A powerhouse belter, Kauter really stood out for the chutzpah and comic flair she brought to her character.
An added treat for me was the realization that I had previously seen Kellen Drew, who played Pippin’s scheming stepmother Fastrada, when she played Velma Kelly last spring in “Chicago” at Brebeuf Jesuit High School. She stunned me then with her effortless talent and once again evidenced that she is a force to be reckoned with. If anyone is destined for the Great White Way, it would be her.
Praiseworthy as well was the ensemble’s execution of choreographer Cherri Jaffee’s and co-choreographer Brandon Comer’s nod to Bob Fosse’s original choreography—with all demonstrating dynamism, fine musicality and showmanship.
As far as the show’s technical elements, reflecting first-rate production values, there are few teams that match the creativity of SSS’. Contributing to the effervescent lighting design was Michael Moffatt. Art director Kyle Ragsdale was responsible for the distinctive set pieces. Music director Jeanne Bowling who conducted an outstanding 12-piece orchestra also created the show’s glittering costumes.
In previous reviews of SSS productions I have made the observation, worth repeating, that one of the most satisfying things about seeing an SSS show is the knowledge that some of the performers may one day grace a Broadway stage. Several SSS alums are actually doing that today. It’s a tribute to Holloway,Bowling and their colleagues, that the exceptional professional training they provide, especially for those who aspire to the heights, can help make dreams come true.
For more information about Summer Stock Stage visit summerstockstage.com.