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“Pippin” dazzles at Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre

Image courtesy of DutchApple.com

Josh Ritberg

Staff Writer

The touring production of “Pippin”, which ran from August 17 – September 23, played an extraordinary run at
Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre. On September 20, there were understudies for the characters of Pippin, The Leading Player, and Pippin’s stepbrother Lewis. While not perfect, this spirited young cast brought great energy to this new circus inspired production of “Pippin”. “Pippin” is a show within a show that tells the story of a young prince named Pippin (Mason Derreck Lewis) who is out to find his purpose in life. Throughout his journey, the head of the theatre troupe, The Leading Player (Mara Lucas), is keeping an eye on Pippin, and making sure that he stays on the right path. As Pippin grows closer to finding himself, The Leading Player grows more aggressive and menacing. Mason Derreck Lewis was extremely strong as Pippin. Mason Derreck Lewis usually plays the part of Pippin’s stepbrother Lewis but did a fine job stepping into this challenging role. Lewis is a baritone; the role of Pippin is usually played by a tenor. Lewis struggled a bit vocally in Act One, as the band played the score a step higher than Lewis’s normal baritone range. In Act Two though, Mason Derreck Lewis really came into his own. His singing was a lot smoother in the second half, and he also got to display his incredible acting skills as Pippin settled deeper into ordinary life. He also had great chemistry with Savannah Sprinkle’s “Catherine”, and really gave a wonderful performance overall.
Mara Lucas was a revelation as The Leading Player. Lucas is normally a swing, which means that she steps
into the show whenever someone has to step out of the show. Lucas proved herself to be a true triple threat. In
this reimagined production, the character of The Leading Player is the ringleader of the circus troupe and is
determined to keep the performance going strong at any cost. Lucas’s Leading Player manages to be
simultaneously welcoming and terrifying. Lucas expresses both sides of this character, with style and
incredible flair. Her dancing in the Bob Fosse inspired number “Glory” truly stopped the show. Lucas also
displayed fine chemistry with Lewis’s Pippin in the number “On the Right Track.” They danced Chet Walker’s spirited choreography in this number with true joy, and Lucas’s performance was truly one of the
highlights of the evening. Brendon Schaefer gave a fun comedic performance as Pippin’s father Charles. While he was clearly having a ball in the number “War is a Science,” there was always a feeling that he was holding back a little. This character does not have much stage time, and although he was fine in the role, his performance became forgettable as the show continued. Erica Lee Cianciulli, while a bit miscast, gave an incredibly spirited performance as Pippin’s scheming stepmother Fastrada. The character of Fastrada is supposed to be old enough to have two grown up sons. As an actress who just graduated college, the role seemed a bit of a stretch for Cianciulli. Especially
considering that she is noticeably around the same age as Mason Derreck Lewis who plays her stepson.
Nevertheless, her dancing in the number “Spread a Little Sunshine” was absolutely astounding. Her many quick
changes throughout the number got an incredibly warm response by the audience. Although not entirely right for
the part, Cianciulli as Fastrada established herself as an incredibly strong performer with a bright future. Collin Khamphouy is a joy in the role of Pippin’s brother Lewis. Although a minor role, Khamphouy made the most of his time onstage. Emilia Brown was a crowd pleaser as Pippin’s grandmother Berthe. While Berthe’s incredible number, “No Time At All,” was well received by the audience, Brown played the role a bit too over the top. Brown is extremely young for the role of Pippin’s grandmother, and while it could certainly have worked, Brown tended to over exaggerate the part of the grandmother instead of just trusting in the great material in Roger O. Hirson’s book and Stephen Scwartz’s score. Savannah Sprinkle gave an incredibly tender and humorous performance as Pippin’s love interest Catherine. Although the character of Catherine doesn’t come into the show until Act Two, as Pippin learns to
embrace ordinary life, Sprinkle still made good use of her time onstage. She truly blew the audience away in Catherine’s number “Ordinary Woman” as Catherine is trying to woo Pippin. While her comedic scenes were a bit too understated at times, she displayed strong chemistry with Mason Derreck Lewis’s Pippin and with the young  actor Noah Johnson who played her son Theo. Last, but certainly not least, the ensemble of circus players really became the stars of the show. They performed the daring circus tricks with passion and true enthusiasm for their art. They supported the characters at all times, and like Lucas’s Leading Player, they were able to be both thrilling and terrifying as Pippin changes his perspective on what he wants in life. Mia Walker, who was the associate director for the Broadway revival of Pippin, directs this new touring production at Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre with great
respect for the material. Walker was able to honor Diane Paulus’s brilliant vision for the Broadway revival, while
also accommodating to this new crop of performers and especially for this new theatrical space. Under Walker’s
direction, the dinner theatre is used extremely well as acrobats spin and twirl throughout the theatre. By the
end of the show, the audience felt like they were in a completely different world, and that is in large part to
Walker’s excellent direction for this tour. Chet Walker’s choreography for the Broadway revival is lovingly recreated by Mark Burrell for this tour. The fosse-inspired numbers stun just as they did on Broadway and are all  showstoppers. Special mention must also be given to Evan Adamson, who achieved the incredible feat of fitting the circus tent setting into the relatively small space of Dutch Apple. The lifting of the circus tent at the top of the show elicited gasps from the audience, and that is a large testament to Adamson’s accommodations to the set. The whole creative team as a whole did such a great job of recreating the Broadway revival’s design and bringing the world of the circus into this dinner theatre. Although, the casting at times left a little to be desired, this production was certainly an excellent and truly thrilling night of theatre that Dutch Apple audiences will not soon forget.