Terrific PIPPIN at Collaborative Stage

by Jack Shaw

The cast of Collaborative Stage Productions' PIPPIN wows audiences at the Eagle Theatre in Hammonton NJ, where it is running through May 5. (Photo credit: Chris Miller)

What begins as a mysterious circus group leads Prince Pippin on his search for meaning and significance. Collaborative Stage Productions’ PIPPIN at The Eagle Theatre in Hammonton was a terrific show as promised. Unfortunately, I had to miss the opening night on this one but when the next weekend came I was up for it. 

Some might call it a romantic comedy and others might call it modern theatre. I fall in with the latter in calling it modern theatre. It’s not a show you see every day. I have to say that PIPPIN is not my favorite show, not because I’ve seen it a lot, but just the opposite. While there are elements of romantic comedies–girls and boys, singing and dancing, lovemaking–there are more elements of modern theatre that scream show within a show, never letting the audience forget this is a play-especially when you consider Bob Fosse directed the original Broadway show, which won a ton of Tony Awards and ran the 31st longest on the famous strip.

The Stephen Schwartz music and Dann Dunn choreography are great. Some of the best yet I’ve seen from this group. Unlike some of Collaborative Stage’s other shows this one seemed to start slow and was a little dark throughout. I could see the dark side being used on purpose when I saw the tattered circus look, which was a favorite of the modern period. However, from the beginning you could tell this wasn’t one of your fluff musicals; it intended to be something else… and it was.

Caleb Whipple as “Pippin” was totally believable with every note on key, but not to be surpassed was the “Leading Player,” Liz Filios, who appeared courtesy of the Actors Equity Association. Another couple of standouts were William Baez as “Charles” and Toni Thompson who brought the house down as “Berthe” (Grandma). Dann Dunn, director and choreographer, put together a great ensemble cast as well. The choreography was perfect and the timing was flawless.

I have always said I like my musicals with music and story (Book by Roger O. Hirson) to blend into one theatrical treat. In this case, it may have been too much. It came out of the ‘70s and underwent some changes as it went from professional to amateurs; the amateur version is much watered down, whereas the one Fosse would have directed would have been pithier, meatier, and more shocking—reminiscent of modern classic theatre. Scott Miller in his 1996 book says that because of “its1970s pop style score and a somewhat emasculated licensed version for amateur productions which is very different from the original Broadway production, the show now has a reputation for being merely cute and harmlessly naughty; but if done the way director Bob Fosse envisioned it, the show is surreal and disturbing.” I see it more the Bob Fosse way in this Collaborative Stage Productions version. In fact I see little that this theatre group does that is less than the edgy variety of theatre that is often disturbing to its audience (with delight).

Needless to say, this was a fantastic show, and if you’ve only seen the lighter version, here’s your chance to break away from “cute and harmlessly naughty.”  You may even find it “surreal and disturbing.” My only problem with the show is that PIPPIN’s search for meaning and significance is so overdone these days I find myself worn out and hardly shocked by Act II. In fact, it was in Act II that I was looking at my watch for the first time. But it’s not the company’s fault. Chaos can get noisy, but stick with it and you will be rewarded.

PIPPIN runs until May 5, 2012.

Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Book by Roger O. Hirson
Directed by Dann Dunn
April 20, April 21, 27, 28 and May 4, 5 at 8 p.m.
April 29th at 3 p.m.
Collaborative Stage Productions
at The Eagle Theatre
208 Vine Street
Hammonton NJ 08037

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1 comment

Jack Shaw
Jack Shaw May 1, 2012 - 8:08 am

I apologize to Choreographer and Director Dann Dunn. In my review, I alluded too
often to the work of Bob Fosse on the original and may have given the impression the choreography in this particular piece was his. The show definitely has his influence and history but the choreography done here was strictly the fantastic work of Dann Dunn. I wanted to give credit where it was due and it was a fine work of choreography by Dann Dunn himself.


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