Dancing Shines In Playcrafters’ PIPPIN

by Arnie Finkel

The book of PIPPIN, by Roger O. Hirson, concerns the journey in search of self worth of Pippin the oldest son of Charlemagne. He goes through war, sex (lots and lots of sex in this production) and home life on his personal quest. On this loose premise is hung a superior score by Stephen Schwartz, composer of GODSPELL, CHILDREN OF EDEN and WICKED.

Shelli Pentimall Bookler and Clark Van Hekken in a scene from Playcrafters of Skippack's production of PIPPIN, running through September 4.

Bob Fosse must be looking down (or up, as the case may be) on the Playcrafters of Skippack’s production: the dancing is the heart and soul of this exciting and energetic performance. Choreographer Tom Blair has evoked Fosse and gotten inspired dancing from the whole cast. I was particularly struck by Collette Anderson, Matt Fennelly, Jerry McGrier, Andrew Paul, Suzanne Rainear and Ellen Schwartz. The entire ensemble not only danced well but Music Director Barbara Newberry had them performing terrific choral arrangements. The orchestra under her direction played well. I’m sure she and director Brian Shapella will adjust the balance so that the orchestra does not overpower the singers.

Steve Carrasco as the Leading Player (the Ben Vereen role) moves slickly and sings well. It is his duty to guide the audience and keep the players in line. As Charlemagne, Clark Van Hekken is appropriately commanding, regal and bombastic. He wrings the most out of the funniest lines of the script. His voice is strong and resonant while speaking or singing.

Shelli Pentimall Bookler appears as Charlemagne’s extravagant wife Fastrada. She is a fine actress and sells a song well. She has a variety of sensuous moves that she uses with great comic instinct. In the usually minor role of Lewis, Fastrada’s son and Pippin’s rival, Jerry McGrier is a wonder of comic timing. He also shows that he is a superior dancer.

Katie Romano is Catherine, the love interest in the story. She has a lovely voice and brings an understanding of the lyrics home. As Catherine’s son Theo, Quinton Ritche makes the most of his few lines.

Berthe, Pippin’s grandmother, is a cameo gem played and sung by Donna Cockenberg. She is so good that I found the activities of cast members in the background a bit distracting. She takes command of the stage and is terrific in her all too brief scene. Christina Zick makes any bit part (and she has quite a few) hilarious.

The actor who plays Pippin is a good vocalist and moves well, especially in his duet with the leading player “On the Right Track.” If you want to know more about him, (and you should), you’ll have to come to the theater. I promised no spoilers in this review.

The many and resplendent costumes required for Pippin were designed by Diane Van Hekken. She did marvels with them. The set was adequate and served the production well as did the lighting design by Curtis Cockenberg and Tom Dinnella.

Director Brian Shapella kept the production moving along smartly. He put his stamp on the whole thing. His decision to make the first act end with “Morning Glow” and his reading of the script were right on.

It is evident that the whole cast is enjoying themselves mightily – and so will you. Leave the kiddies behind.

Book by Roger O. Hirson
Music by Stephen Schwartz
Directed by Brian Shapella
Musical Direction by Barbara Newberry
Choreography by Tom Blair
August 19 – September 4, 2010
Playcrafters of Skippack
2011 Store Road (Off Rte. 73)
Skippack, PA
(610) 584-4005

You may also like

Leave a Reply