Tuesday 30 April 2024

Pippin - Review

Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London


Music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Book by Roger O. Hirson
Directed by Jonathan O'Boyle

Patricia Hodge

In what was quite possibly the finest vocal interpretation of this show to be heard on this side of the Atlantic, Stephen Schwartz’s Pippin played to a packed Theatre Royal Drury Lane for two nights only.

Written in the 1970s as part-allegory against the Vietnam War, Pippin is a curious work that was never to achieve commercial success in the West End. Unquestionably a show of two-halves, act one is a magnificent pastiche of the medieval court of Charlemagne with grand romance, intrigue and glamour and some of Schwartz’s finest compositions. The second half in contrast tails off into a quirky domestic love story that lacks voltage and excitement. One can understand how, outside musical theatre enthusiasts, the show has failed to gain traction in front of large-scale British audiences.

All that being said, the cast that Jonathan O’Boyle has assembled for this concert production were sensational. Jac Yarrow stepped up to the title role and from his sublime handling of Corner Of The Sky early in the show, his credentials were defined. Alex Newell is flown in from the USA to take on the challenging role of Leading Player. Newell brings charisma and strength to a part that demands pinpoint timing alongside strong vocal presence and delivers magnificently. Zizi Strallen plays Fastrada, Pippin’s scheming stepmother. Strallen only knows world-class performance values and her balletic take on the evil queen is sensational. She also knocks her big solo, Spread A Little Sunshine straight out of the park.

The evening’s biggest delight however is in Patricia Hodge’s take on Berthe, Pippin’s elderly grandmother. Her number No Time At All is perhaps the most glorious celebration of life to be found in the entire musical theatre canon. Hodge delivers the song and its singalong chorus to note-perfect precision, with a power that belies her years. Lucie Jones is given the spotlight after the interval as Catherine, Pippin’s love interest. Jones of course is flawless in her singing but she’s battling against a storyline that defies credibility.

The production’s choreography was ambitious in its Fosse-tribute intentions - but while the dancers’ talents were unquestioned, they needed far more rehearsal time to pull off Fosse, well. 

Never say never, but it is unlikely that Pippin will ever sound as good in London as what O’Boyle has achieved at Drury Lane this week. A neat touch saw a 50-strong choir of ArtsEd’s finest adding impressive vocal heft throughout the evening. Equally Chris Ma’s directing of the London Musical Theatre Orchestra was spot-on throughout.

Pippin’s 50th anniversary concert production was a memorable musical theatre treat.

Photo credit: Pamela Raith

No comments:

Post a Comment