Excellence Abounds in Tri-PAC’s PIPPIN

by Walter Bender

David Bazemore as The Leading Player in PIPPIN, running at Tri-County Performing Arts Center in Pottstown PA through Oct 30. (Photo by John Daggett)

Tri-County Performing Arts Center and Village Productions opened their 2011-2012 season with PIPPIN. PIPPIN is a “magical” interpretation of the story of Pippin, the son of Charlemagne, performed by a mysterious acting troupe led by the enigmatic Leading Player (David Bazemore).

Director John Moletress has done an incredible job with this production. His interpretation of the show tells the story from Pippin’s perspective, the real audience positioned backstage in a theatre where a burlesque-style show is just finishing. Pippin is the stage manager in this theatre, and is introduced to the traveling troupe after the show has ended and everyone has left the theatre. The use of backstage props, scenery, and even a mobile scaffolding to tell the story is inspired.

The cast of this production is very solid, with several excellent performances. Mr. Bazemore as the Leading Player is tall, angular, and has amazing body control. The director has him backlit several times throughout the production, and the silhouettes are indeed magical.

Matthew Kiesling is Pippin, and this is a star turn for this young man. He has a beautiful voice, dances extremely well, and has worked very hard to understand the character. He and Mr. Bazemore work very well together (their dance number together is terrific.)

Ben Fried is a part of the acting troupe who at one point is dressed up as Berthe, Pippin’s exiled grandmother, and he steals the show with his rendition of “No Time At All.”

Donna Dougherty as Fastrada in Tri-County Performing Arts Center's PIPPIN, running in Pottstown through October 30. (Photo by John Daggett)

Donna Dougherty as Fastrada, Pippin’s scheming mother, is oily charm and evil. Her self-choreographed feature number, “Spread a Little Sunshine” is energetic and a lot of fun.

Other sparkling performances were offered by Carly Fried (Catherine), Neal Newman (Charlemagne), Jason Burke (Lewis), and David Eurillo as young Theo, who gives an amazingly controlled performance. The subtle yet funny movements he orchestrates with his “pet duck” were a joy.

The ensemble adds much to this production, acting as stage crew, army, crowd, and whatever else is needed. Kudos to Drew Carr, Dane Duncan, Jordan Popky, Pat Rhoads, Kelsey Riker, Jordan Shoemaker, Carrie Thorwarth and the aforementioned Mr. Fried for their amazing contributions.

The set and lighting add to the excellence of this production. Set pieces are strategically positioned amidst random “stuff”, and there is enough area lighting to accent the more intimate staging, with the full lighting not blinding the audience. The back of the set is the “front curtain”, from which the actors make entrances and exits to the burlesque stage, and has footlights and stage lighting to enhance the illusion.

The choreography by Michelle Wurtz was first-rate, the movements never out of sync with the story. The orchestra (conducted by Barbara Newberry) never overwhelmed the cast, and the cast was well drilled on the music. Congrats to Music Director Deborah Stimson-Snow for her efforts.

This was, in short, the best production of PIPPIN I have seen. There are weaknesses in the script (not the fault of the cast or crew), but even these were minimized by the wonderful performances. Treat yourself and make the trip to Pottstown to see this first-rate production.

Book by Roger O. Hirson
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Directed by John Moletress
October 13-30, 2011
Tri-County Performing Arts Center
245 E. High Street
Pottstown, PA 19464
(610) 970-1199

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