McLean High School
Rivers belong where they can ramble, eagles belong where they can fly, and Washington-Lee High School’s production of Pippin belongs where it can amaze. Reinvented to be set in a jazzy nightclub, the charismatic cast has found its very own corner of the sky.
Pippin has been spreading its magic since it opened on Broadway in 1972. A show within a show, Pippin follows an acting troupe performing a show about the life of the son of Charlemagne and the namesake of the show, Pippin, led by their manipulative Leading Player. Originally a student musical performed at Carnegie Melon University, it was transformed by Ron Strauss and Stephen Schwartz, who produced the final show. The show’s popularity led to its revival on Broadway and a Tony award.
Mischievous, mysterious, and melodious, Ellie Berenson dominated the room as the Leading Player. As her voice soared, Berenson had tremendous control over both her vocals and her movements; she brought a new and interesting physicality to the show. Zeke Albro reigned as Pippin, transitioning from having boyish innocence to intense vulnerability with ease, inciting guffaws as he gallivanted across the stage and climbed across the arm rests of the audience members. Albro’s smooth baritone enchanted all during “Morning Glow,” where he demonstrated his exceptional vocal range and comfort onstage.
A dedicated dance ensemble welcomed the audience to their nightclub, from Grace Leckey’s talented tap dancing to Christopher-Thomas Cordero’s attention-drawing performance. Julia Elman delivered the best performance of the night as Berthe. Elman’s persuasive and energetic performance in “No Time at All” enticed all to sing along, refreshing the audience with her effortless sensuality. Grace Fisher was a vision of innocence as she used her impeccable grace to portray Catherine’s love for both her son and Pippin. Rowan Meltmar wailed his despairs over his lost best friend, a duck, to great applause as Catherine’s son, Theo. Meltmar’s youthful air perpetuated a true family chemistry, the only hint of reality in a show full of mischief and lies. Will LeHardy’s flamboyance as Lewis was hysterically brilliant. His chemistry with everyone he interacted with was exceptional, especially in a mock mirror moment, which he shared with his twin, Ward LeHardy.
The real magicians were the tech crews. Ripples of colorful boas and feathered fans excited the audience, enhancing the delicate choreography displayed in intricate numbers like “War is a Science.” Simplistic sets heightened the show within a show aspect of the production by using pieces that were both useful and comedic, like the rotating bed set. Dramatic lighting enhanced the action of the show; for example, red lights flashing in moments of violence and anger. The flashy outfits and glitzy makeup of the performers were contrasted by the waiter’s clean fitted tuxedos, all of which generated the laidback cabaret-like atmosphere of the nightclub. Most consistently, the pit orchestra delivered an energetic and enthusiastic performance and impressed all by playing both their instruments and by staying in character while continuously onstage.
Magical and whimsical, Washington-Lee High School’s production of Pippin had everyone humming along to the catchy and artfully delivered songs. An explosion of color, impressive vocals, and masterful dancing, this production will have you praying for more.
Loudoun Valley High School
The lilting vocals of the cast floated through the audience, inviting them into a club filled with fantasy and intrigue. Washington Lee High School wasn’t one to embrace the conventional when it came to their interpretation of Pippin. Set in a 1940’s nightclub instead of the tradition circus or carnival, this cast offered a distinct and extremely effective take on this classic musical.
Pippin is a musical centered around a mysterious collection of actors with a single goal: to recreate the story of Pippin, the son of King Charles, a man whose story is forever veiled in superstition.
The entire show was orchestrated by the sultry Leading Player (Ellie Berenson). Berenson commanded the stage with her impressive presence and ethereal voice. The frequent cameos of her nightclub employees in the show kept the show fresh and reiterated the concept of a play within a play. The ensemble cameos were all bold, dynamic, and effortlessly hilarious.
Pippin (Zeke Albro) stole the hearts of the audience with his endearing antics and stellar voice. His relationship with his father Charles (Greg Roberts) was simply adorable. As Charles paraded around the stage, Pippin trailed behind like a puppy, exuberantly brandishing a sword and skipping straight into the battlefield. Their demeanors and voices contrasted beautifully in the song “War in a Science.”
One of the highlights of this production was the appearance of Berthe (Julia Elman), Pippin’s sassy sage grandma. The antics of the all-male ensemble in her song “No Time at All” were ridiculously funny as she wowed the audience with her captivating presence, sequined dance costume, and austere expressions.
The chemistry between the step-queen Fastrada (Maddie Albro) and her darling son Lewis (Will LeHardy) was immensely entertaining as they perfectly fulfilled the roles of a doting mother and her baby. LeHardy showed immense dedication to character as he charged the stage and took on the personality of a lovable meathead.
The pit orchestra handled the complex score with complete professionalism. They managed to integrate themselves into the show with their reactions, sequined bow ties, and perfect timing.
The subtle glitz and glamour of the costumes in “Pippin: His Life and Times” replicated the sparkle of the nightclub. The sequined pockets on Lewis’s coat and the sparkle of Theo’s overalls combined with the glittery outfits of the dance ensemble tied both scenes together. Another impressive costuming feat was the constant use of tear-away clothing. The queen and Berthe both tore away their skirts at the climax of their numbers: a guarantee that hilariousness would ensue.
The use of a cyclorama as a stationary backdrop worked perfectly to create a basic nightclub setting. Purple and red lights were used to accentuate the general feel of the show, while flashes of red backdrop highlighted Pippin’s desperate nature. This framed smaller revolving set pieces that told the story of Pippin worked perfectly within the larger scene, seamlessly integrating reality and the make-believe. The bar also served a similar purpose. Not only did it provide a focal point for the nightclub, but the ensemble using it to take a break between scenes reminded the audience that they were simply actors playing characters.
The cast of Pippin certainly had “magic to do” on the stage that night, and their enchanting performance easily completed the task.