Tag Archives: Nick Winston

“Pippin” at the Charing Cross Theatre

Among the many devotees of Stephen Schwartz’s musical, originally written in 1967, director Steven Dexter is an expert. Having staged the show at a pop-up venue last year (a boon between lockdowns), Dexter is back with his hippie-inspired version of the piece. Bigger and just as accomplished, this intelligent take on the Summer of Love does Pippin proud.

I’m still not a fan of the show. Yes, it has great songs. Although the score is contrived. And Roger O. Hirson’s book has wit, even if the humour is dated. But this story of Charlemagne’s son, presented by ‘Players’ who form a show within a show, is a tricky affair: a cautionary tale too close to reactionary in its suspicion of dreams and ambition.

Any reservations aren’t shared by Dexter or his eight energetic cast members. Akin to Pippin’s search for meaning, this production has a “goal and a plan”. And it is well executed. More serious than you might expect, considering the Players’ promises of what we are about to see, the production has more magic than merriment. Take the performance of Ian Carlyle, who makes for a sinister and in-command Lead Player, there’s an appropriately dark edge to proceedings.

Genevieve Nicole in Pippin
Genevieve Nicole

With strong performances from the (not-so-well-written) women in Pippin’s life, we are never allowed to forget they are Players, too. The effect is cold. Genevieve Nicole gets the most out of her big number – she’s super as Pippin’s let-it-all-hang-out grandma. While Gabrielle Lewis-Dodson as the stepmother manipulates events at court in style. It’s only Natalie McQueen, as Catherine, who really cares for our hero and makes the show’s sweet love song, with lots of laughs, enjoyable.

Ryan Anderson in Pippin
Ryan Anderson

The big danger is that Pippin himself becomes something of a puppet. Arguably he is exactly that and Dexter makes the case forcefully. And, who really likes Pippin anyway? Schwartz wanted him to check his privilege half a century ago! More credit to the show’s lead, Ryan Anderson, who get as much sympathy as he can for the character. Genuine emotion comes late (the penny drops – that’s why I’m not a fan) and, when it arrives, Anderson does well.

It is with dancing that Anderson, and the whole cast, excel. Choreographer Nick Winston comes into his own with smart moves, superbly executed. Engaging with each song, adding depth and interest, there’s extraordinary insight into the characters. Winston’s work sculpts the roles. With a nice big space, staged in the round, the dancing is the most joyous part of the show and, too frequently, the most emotional. It’s with the movement in the production that this Pippin moves.

Until 14 August 2021

www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk

Photos by Edward Johnson

“Pippin” at the Garden Theatre

More than a little mad, Stephen Schwartz’s musical, ostensibly about the son of Emperor Charlemagne, has a big revival in this small-scale venue.

This new version of the phenomenal hit has a cast of six who create a band-of-players feel that, along with the traverse staging, suits the setting. And director Steven Dexter hits the mark creating hippy vibes: dating from 1972, the show is very much of its time.

Ryan Anderson does a lovely job with the score’s main theme and its clever love song, where he is joined by Tanisha-Mae Brown making a strong professional debut. Anderson’s Pippin also manages some character development (no small achievement in this role) from awkward to angry – well done.

Tanisha-Mae Brown, Tsemaye Bob-Egbe and Ryan Anderson in Pippin
Tanisha-Mae Brown, Tsemaye Bob-Egbe and Ryan Anderson

Anderson may take the lead, but the production’s sextet works especially well together. They seem like they’re having fun! The cast’s skills show Nick Winston’s choreography superbly, impressive work for such an intimate space.

Pippin has great tunes and smart enough lyrics. The cast do well with the humour (which in truth is one note) aided by jokes about the lo-fi staging and theatre under current conditions. Joanne Clifton deserves special mention for camping it up as Pippin’s gran and his stepmother.

While Dexter has done well, it’s still hard to really get involved with this “anecdotal review”. Pippin’s search for fulfilment is exposed with deep cynicism – fair enough – but the self-conscious storytelling isn’t as clever as it would like and ends up feeling frosty.

Thankfully, Anderson manages to inject some genuine emotion. And the show’s overbearing concepts, with the sinister idea that Pippin is being manipulated, are in the capable hands of Tsemaye Bob-Egbe who performs as the Lead Player; her excellent voice and commanding presence brings the whole show together.

Until 11 October 2020

www.gardentheatre.co.uk

Photos by Bonnie Britain