By Mary Boyle
The Tony award-winning musical, Pippin, is about the son of Charlemagne, the 8th Century King of the Franks and Lombards, and the very first Holy Roman Emperor at the beginning of the 9th Century. Though the story is based in history and contains a similar morality message common to the time period, the musical is anything but what might be considered classical theatre; and yet, the musical, itself, has a powerful history of its own. In Broadway history, Pippin is widely considered a game-changer— a revolutionary work that set the tone for every other Broadway production to follow. There is no better place for such a musical history legend to be performed than with Skylight Musical Theatre, who opens their season with Pippin this September 21st through October 27th at the Cabot Theatre in the Broadway Theatre Center in Milwaukee.
Pippin (Lucus Pastrana) has returned home from school to his father, Charlemagne (Todd Denning), and is hoping to find fulfillment and meaning in his life. Led by a magician known as the Leading Player (Krystal Drake), Pippin explores the glory of war, the passion of the flesh, the power of ruling, and even dabbles in the arts and religion, but everything leaves him feeling empty. The rest of his family can't seem to help him: his eccentric Grandmother, Berthe (Elaine Pasons Herro), means well, but his stepmother, Fastrada (Kathryn Hausman), and her "strong and stupid son, Lewis (Alex Campea), would rather get rid of Pippin to clear their own path to power. In his despair, Pippin is found by Catherine (Natalie Ford), a widow with one son, Theo (Ayana Strutz), who hopes to make a husband out of Pippin. Though the bonds begin to grow between them, Pippin still believes that there must be something more extraordinary in his life that he has yet to find that will fulfill him.
Directed by Skylight's Artistic Director, Ray Jivoff, who is completing his final year after 20 years on the Skylight staff in various roles, and with Music Direction by David Bonofiglio, Pippin is best for mature audiences who don't mind a lot of sexual innuendo and an occasional, well-placed swear word. Skylight loves to work with Milwaukee artists, and this production brought on two who made a notable Skylight debut: Todd Denning, who played Charlemagne, is a Milwaukee favorite, for good reason, but this was his first turn on the Skylight stage, while UW Milwaukee graduate, Krystal Drake, makes a spectacular Skylight debut as a sleek, powerful Leading Player. Alex Campea as Lewis, Natalie Ford as Catherine, and Kathryn Hausman as Fastrada return to the Skylight stage as seasoned veterans, as well as Lucas Pastrana, who shone as Pippin. Pay particular attention to Elaine Parsons Herro who plays Berthe. Herro was a regular on the Skylight stage in the 1980's, and makes a triumphant return in this production.
The music and lyrics of Pippin were written by Stephen Schwartz, who, at the young age of 26, had three hits running on Broadway: Godspell, Pippin, and The Magic Show. What made Pippin stand out among them, and influence every show thereafter, was the choreography by the legendary Bob Fosse, which created a dark, sophisticated aura to what would otherwise have been a rather naive production. Schwartz is better known today for the music and lyrics for Wicked, while Fosse is synonymous with the musical Chicago. Pippen likely fell from the limelight largely because the music, in particular, feels very dated to the year it made its debut: 1972. The musical made a Broadway revival in 2013 because the political and religious commentary in it applied so well to the current culture, and that is still true. Moreover, the underlying message of Pippin is timeless: that ordinary life is extraordinary when one has love.
Pippin runs through October 7th at the Cabot Theatre, located within the Broadway Theatre Center, at 158 N. Broadway in Milwaukee. Tickets may be purchased by calling the Box Office at (414) 291-7800, Monday – Saturday, noon - 6 p.m. Box Office hours are noon - 6 p.m., and the Box Office window is also open two hours prior to each performance. Tickets may also be purchased online at www.skylightmusictheatre.org.
About Skylight Music Theatre
Skylight Music Theatre’s mission since 1959: To bring the full spectrum of music theatre works to a wide and diverse audience in celebration of the musical and theatrical arts and their reflection of the human condition. Skylight presents productions “Skylight Style” – bringing fresh approaches or interesting twists to music theatre works, creating meaningful connections, not only between the characters on stage but with the audience as well. The beautiful, intimate Cabot Theatre allows audiences to feel close to the powerful emotions on stage.