Music & Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Book by Roger O Hirsch.
Southwark Playhouse, the Large, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BD to 24 March 2018.
Mon-Sat 7.30 pm Mat Tues & Sat 3pm.
Run 2 hr 15 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7407 0294.
Review: William Russell 28 February
Sound and energy signifying very little
The score and lyrics for this 1972 Broadway musical are a delight – witty words, pleasing melodies, but the book is pretentious guff about the meaning of life. It ran on Broadway but when it came here the following year in spite of a good cast it clocked up a mere 85 performances. This revamped version over directed by Jonathan O’Boyle was praised when it opened earlier this year at the Hope Mill theatre, Manchester. To be fair talent on stage abounds, but those in charge of the sound have upped the volume to intolerable levels. One can certainly hear something, but one cannot make out what is being said and the result is just noises which sabotage Schwartz’s melodies and renders his lyrics incomprehensible.
The show did run on Broadway when its tale of Pippin, son of Charlemagne finding the meaning of life as told by a troupe of strolling players apparently struck a chord with audiences. Director O’Boyle has decided that the players should now be from Victorian vaudeville, whatever that may be. Vaudeville was an early 20th century American form of show business and unknown in Victorian times. Presumably he means Victorian Musical Hall.
Genevieve Nicole, energetic and full throated, commands the scene like some antique dominatrix as the Leading Player, while Jonathan Carlton as the holy fool Pippin seeking the meaning of it all sings sweetly – he has a lovely falsetto. After murdering his father Charlemagne he finds out that ruling an empire is not as easy as he imagined – he gives everything away to ungrateful subjects – and does a deal with the Leading Player to restore Dad to life so that he can go out into the world seeking whatever. He duly finds it in the form of a widow, Catherine played by Tessa Kadler, who just about overcomes the racket and sings well. She has a farm and an objectionable small son and is in need of a man. Claptrap in other words.
But the songs just about survive, although Mairi Barclay, who plays wise old grandmother Berthe manages to totally destroy No Time at All, a superb and witty point number, by performing it in the manner of Mrs Brown. Presumably that is what the director wanted and is not her fault.
The costumes are handsome, the magic tricks work well, and the choreography by William Whelton plays homage with a hat moment to the great Bob Fosse, who originally directed the show. If only Mr O’Boyle had calmed things down and told his sound people to create a volume fit for the human ear all might have been well, the banality of the book being something one could live with.
Leading Player: Genevieve Nicole.
Pippin: Jonathan Carlton.
Lewis: Bradley Judge.
Fastrada/Berthe: Mairi Barclay.
Catherine: Tess Kadler.
Player: Michelle Andrews.
Theo/Player: Scott Hayward.
Player: Ellie Seaton.
Player: Andrew Halliday.
Director: Jonathan O’Boyle.
Choreographer: William Whelton.
Musical Director: Zach Flis.
Set & Costume Designer: Maeve Black.
Lighting Designer: Aaron J. Dootson.
Sound Designer: James Nicholson.
Production Sound: Ben Karakashian.