This past weekend, the Livingston Theatre Company performed "Pippin," the last mainstage production of its 25th season.
To say the company went out with a grand finale would undoubtedly be an understatement because what ensued during the April 22 matinee I attended was a show full of humor, charm and outstanding performances.
"Pippin" originally debuted on Broadway in 1972 with music and lyrics by Broadway legend Stephen Schwartz and direction and choreography by the iconic Bob Fosse. The show was later revived in 2013, a production that actually won that year's Tony Award for "Best Revival of a Musical," among others.
As stated by director Michael Einiger, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, in the show's program: LTC's production combines aspects from both the original and revival Broadway productions of "Pippin."
The show is unique as it's done in a "show within a show" format. An acting troupe, known as the "players," are all led by one "Leading Player." They assist in telling the story of the title character Pippin, a fictionalized version of Pippin the Hunchback, son of the Roman empire leader King Charlemagne.
When the musical begins, Pippin (played by a member of the acting troupe) has just finished school and is searching for what to do next in his life. Throughout the musical, he dabbles in a multitude of activities: war, sex, politics and the so-called "simple life."
All of this exploration is encouraged by the troupe's alluring players and Leading Player, portrayed by Kitana Sultan, a School of Arts and Sciences junior.
The Leading Player is a complex, manipulative person, but nevertheless, a fascinating character, which makes portraying them no easy task. But Sultan did it with ease. She is a true triple threat, with her vocals, dancing and acting all being stellar. Her talent especially shined in the numbers "Glory," "On the Right Track" and "Finale."
Owen Butler, a Rutgers Business School first-year, nailed the initially starry-eyed and optimistic Pippin but easily transitioned into a more jaded version of the character as the show continued. I was specifically entertained by his character's antics in the war training number "War is a Science."
Some of the show's standout characters take form as Pippin's strange but entertaining relatives. Valerie Myers, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, channeled the cunning character of Fastrada, Pippin's stepmother. Her own number, "Spread a Little Sunshine," was a favorite of mine.
Nathaniel Paris, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year, was well-committed to his character of Lewis, Fastrada's son and Pippin's step-brother. Paris and Myers worked well together and were able to give humor to their characters' very strange mother-son relationship.
Although not present for long, Berthe, Pippin's grandmother, played by Ella Mcilwaine, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, was another wonderful character in the play. Mcilwaine perfectly grasped Berthe's wise but carefree personality.
"No Time at All" was a fun number that showcased Mcilwaine's great vocals. The audience was even invited to sing along with lyrics physically presented on a sign, but only for the choruses — the verses, as Berthe repeatedly said, were all hers.
In the second act, we were introduced to the sweet and cheerful Catherine and her son Theo, played by Kaila Parkin, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, and Kel Thomas, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year, respectively.
Parkin's acting was consistently strong, and her vocals in "Kind of Woman" were fantastic. Thomas was not only funny but also brought the youthful spirit needed to portray Theo.
"Pippin" is an ensemble-heavy show, and for good reason. All of the magic would be lost without the players and everyone who portrayed them. They provided the tiny moments of humor that make the show what it is.
As far as musical numbers go, "Morning Glow," the first act's finale, was vocally beautiful and my favorite song from the whole show. It was a great way to leave the audience wanting more before intermission.
"Glory" was a satirical take on war and one of the funniest but also most intriguing numbers due to its choreography. Its dance break, one of my favorite dancing moments out of the whole show, was led by Sultan and accompanied by featured dancers Aaron Carr, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, and Valentina Pappano, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year.
Lily Mollicone, a Mason Gross School of the Arts sophomore, brought the spirit of Fosse to this production with her clever and entertaining choreography.
I also appreciated the costumes, coordinated by School of Arts and Sciences juniors Shaena Harasty and Paula Sholander. From bright colors to dark corsets, I felt they perfectly matched the chaotic, avant-garde and even circus-like aesthetic of the musical. I especially loved how Fastrada's costume had gold accents that sparkled under the stage lights.
The show's constant breaking of the fourth wall was something truly enjoyable for me and brought the entire audience into the fun. Throughout the performance, the players waved and pointed to audience members enticing them to join the magic.
"Pippin" was anything but a simple show. It was eccentric, out there and consistently funny. The audience was filled with laughter for almost every scene and musical number. The cast made sure not to take themselves too seriously and committed to the extreme.
In the finale of the musical, it's up to Pippin to choose his path and what makes him happy, despite how difficult it can be and how it might disappoint others — a moment that's quite relatable to college students everywhere.
Pippin's character is representative of the post-graduated crisis many students experience. That's part of the reason why many colleges chose to perform this musical. Just like Pippin, we try new things, we see what does and doesn't work and we definitely have our hilarious and awkward moments along the way.
I was familiar with this show beforehand, but it had been a long while since I took the time to analyze and fully enjoy it. With LTC's production, I was able to truly understand "Pippin" and what makes it special.
Seeing this show was the perfect way to spend my Saturday afternoon, and I'm looking forward to more of the "magic to do" for LTC's upcoming season!