George Mason High School
With a flash of light, an acrobatic flair, and a knowing look in her eye, the Leading Player takes to the stage, ready to whisk her audience into a world of magic and excitement. So begins Pippin, mesmerizingly performed this weekend by Robinson Secondary School.
Originally developed as a piece for Carnegie Mellon's Scotch'n'Soda Players, Pippin took to the Broadway stage in 1972 and was later revived in 2013. A creative take on the lives of real historical characters, this metatheatrical show tells the story of Pippin, son of Charlemagne, who seeks fulfillment that all the riches of the Holy Roman Empire cannot provide. Accompanied by the narration of the Leading Player, the ringmaster of a medieval circus company, Pippin explores the world in and outside his father's court, learning about life, love, and war. Eventually, however, Pippin finds that sometimes, the most extraordinary thing is to not be extraordinary at all.
Robinson's cast and crew have crafted an excellent take on this well-known classic, astounding audiences with visual effects, adept performances, and agile feats of strength. Skillfully breaking the fourth wall through interactions with the audience, the orchestra, and each other, Pippin's players truly succeeded in capturing the fantastical atmosphere at their show's core.
At the helm of the troupe was Hanna Kornell, portraying the Leading Player with grace and poise. Demonstrating remarkable talent in both vocals and characterization, Kornell found a worthy counterpart in Colin Diggs' Pippin, who played his role with a nuanced take that communicated well both Pippin's affable nature and his wide-eyed ambition.
As Charlemagne, himself, Jimmy Grimes displayed strong comedic presence and timing, particularly showing off his chops in "War Is a Science." Sam Wallington impressed as Pippin's grandmother Berthe, leading the cast and the audience in a rousing sing-along in "No Time at All." The ensemble created vibrant characters and a commanding collective, performing together in numbers such as "Morning Glow" with unity and skill.
The circus tent-inspired set, swooping strings of twinkling lights, and precisely-executed technical cues powerfully emphasized Pippin's circus theme. Inventive treatment of the house as an extension of the set brought viewers into the heart of the show, with the use of elements such as projectors and spotlights at the audience's footsteps creating an immersive stage picture that allowed Pippin to shine.
All in all, Robinson's students enthralled and enchanted with their production of Pippin, reviving a dauntingly unique classic and making it their own. As the lights snuffed out on stage, the audience was left breathless, dumbfounded by this accomplished piece created by cast and crew.
Woodbridge Senior High School
Taking my ordinary life into the Robinson theater, I was stupefied by an electric aura within the theater cultivated from flips and tricks, song and dance, and true magic created by the extraordinary cast and crew of the Rambunctious Theater Company in their production of Pippin.
Making its Broadway debut in 1972, Pippin was crafted by Stephen Schwartz and directed by dance legend Bob Fosse. Conceptually conceived at Carnegie University, the unconventional musical follows the life of a young Prince named Pippin in search of a purposeful life; but, the story is told through a quirky, but fierce, performance troupe with the Leading Player calling the shots. After searching for fulfillment through war, control of the crown, and even the peasant life, Pippin realizes the meaning he sought after could be found in the warmth of true love.
In the opening number "Magic to Do," the stage is illuminated, not just by the bright lights, but by the energy expelled by the Ensemble. The Ensemble of Pippin is the most professional and talented group of high school students I have been given the opportunity to watch. Each character lit up the stage in their own capacity through the strength erupting in their choreography to great vivacious smiles. The individuals on stage never drew focus but managed to remain engaged throughout the scenes. The Ensemble moved as a clear unit as noted in "War is a Science" as the troupe had their swords held down at nearly the same angle.
Although, no troupe can prosper without their Leading Player. Hanna Kornell dominated the show with consistency executing impressive vocals with the application of a lower range and authentic Fosse movements that I appreciated throughout the piece. It was clear Kornell embodied the essence of leadership by bringing the audience into the story with the Ensemble creating an interactive experience. Both the Leading Player and the Ensemble were not feared to break the fourth wall and integrate the audience and orchestra into the piece. Alongside Kornell, Pippin performed by Colin Diggs created a great juxtaposition to the the craziness of the troupe on stage by providing a lovable, character. Diggs skillfully displayed the complex character arc of young Pippin. Many other notable character include Sam Wallington, Jordan James, and Jimmy Grimes playing Berthe, Catherine, and Charles respectively. The three perfected their comedic timing throughout the musical while bringing something fresh to the table with each comedic bit.
But, what sealed this piece together was the strong technical elements. As you walked into the performance space, the audience was already captivated by the illusion of a tent created on the stage with an arabic toned frame on the proscenium of the round stage covered by blue lights with swirling blue gobos. The lighting done by Jason Eisen, made this show a complete experience by capturing the essence of each number: red hues for the Leading Player, deep blue for Pippin's ballads, bright orange for the troupe. The lights also shined brilliantly on the costumes created by Hannah Strong and Sterling Niemann. One of the most unforgettable moments of the show came in combination of all the highlighted aspects. During "Love Song," where the lights shone on the skillfully crafted winged costumes as the dancers completed fouttes across the stage creating a visually orgasmic experience, similar to the scene— stunning and mesmerizing.
In retrospect, it took all my might to not jump on the stage as they the troupe members called "Join Us!" Because, without seeing the Robinson Secondary's production of Pippin, I would have never found meaning to my ordinary life.