Pippin leaps into London's well loved musicals
“Well I’ll sing you the story of a sorrowful lad
He had everything he wanted, didn’t want what he had.”
In the miniature Garden Theatre at The Eagle comes a huge show of vitality, song and dance. Pippin‘s score was written by Stephen Schwartz of Wicked fame. Schwartz gave his permission for this boutique musical version of Pippin at Vauxhall with a talented ensemble cast of just six. Entering the theatre with the audience sitting on both sides of the set is like walking into a fairy tale setting, plants, flowers and fairy lights, and a cast dressed as hippies from the 1970s.
Pippin (Ryan Anderson) is the wide eyed ingenue, the elder son of the king of Christendom, Charlemagne (Dan Krikler). While it is his birth right to inherit his father’s Frankish kingdom, the young prince Pippin expresses his need to discover his own space,
“I’ve got to be where my spirit can run free / Got to find my corner of the sky”. Pippin wants to achieve something truly extraordinary.
Pippin’s first exploit is into the theatre of war. Whereas Pippin’s younger half brother Lewis (Harry Francis) is all laddish conceit and physicality, Pippin is into the world of books. The arch enemy are the Visigoths and somehow this cast of six recreate a battle. “Glory” is the exciting music for the war briefing song with its compulsive, jazzy beat.
The Leading Player (Tsemaye Bob-Egbe) gives this song of “Battles, Barbarous, and Bloody” the full force of her magnificent voice. But war doesn’t row Pippin’s boat and in “Simple Joys” we feel his striving for the unobtainable, “Well I’ll sing you the story of a sorrowful lad / He had everything he wanted, didn’t want what he had.”
It is his wise old grandmother, Bertha (Strictly Come Dancing Winner from 2016, Joanne Clifton) who with a hat, a shawl and a crotchety walk conveys old age and gives Pippin some amusing and comic, scene stealing perspective on what opportunities are there for young princes. Pippin takes her advice to live a little but his sexual dalliances don’t ultimately satisfy.
Joanne Clifton again comes into her own as Fastrada, Charlemagne’s second wife when, in order to advance her own son Lewis, she plots against Charlemagne and Pippin. Spurred on by Fastrada and standing against his father’s tyranny of cruelty to the peasants, Pippin kills his father and takes on the crown, a delightful, improvised costume touch of a tambourine.
We can feel the political ideals of the 1960s in Pippin’s new rule, the peasants to own the land they cultivate, an end to taxes but when money is needed to pay the army to defend his empire against the Visigoths, thank goodness the Leading Player can rectify the situation and release Pippin from royal duties.
The second act is less thrilling than the first but the opening duet between the Leading Player and Pippin, “On The Right Track” sees Pippin’s extravagant dance with thrilling acrobatic moves. Nick Winston is the gifted choreographer. “Keep cool as custard” says the Leading Player.
Pippin meets the beautiful widow Catherine (Tanisha-Mae Brown) but his life supporting her in mending things on the estate soon ceases to please Pippin in his quest for the extraordinary.
I won’t tell you how the extraordinary opportunity is offered to Pippin but it is a dark and odd moment almost concluding the musical.
Steven Dexter has achieved the remarkable, an extraordinarily quirky show on a limited budget and complying with measures for social distancing and covid precautions. Schwartz’s tunes and Winston’s choreography are outstanding. Again, The Garden Theatre celebrates the art of the possible in these times of pandemic!
Magic to Do
Corner of the Sky
No Time at All
Spread a Little Sunshine
On the Right Track
There He Was
Kind of Woman
I Guess I’ll Miss the Man
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Book by David Hirson
Directed by Steven Dexter
Director: Steven Dexter
Choreographer: Nick Winston
Designer: David Shields
Musical Director: Michael Bradley
Running Time: One hour 30 minutes with a five minute break
Closed on 17th October 2020
The Garden Theatre at The Eagle
349 Kennington Lane
London SE11 5QY
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the Garden Theatre on
18th September 2020