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Pippin (50th Anniversary Concert) – Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Pippin was originally conceived as a student musical in 1967, and it was not until 1972 that lyricist and composer Stephen Schwartz developed it for Broadway where it became the 37th longest-running musical. However, it did not fare anything like as well in London where it closed after only 85 performances in spite of a strong cast including Patricia Hodge, Elisabeth Welch and Paul Jones.

Pippin Patricia Hodge and cast. Photo by Pamela Raith Photography.
Pippin Patricia Hodge and cast. Photo by Pamela Raith Photography.

The show uses the premise of a mysterious performance troupe led by Leading Player (a rumbustious Alex Newell) to tell the story of Pippin (Jac Yarrow), a young prince, searching for meaning and significance. Although based on figures from the Middle Ages, the plot is totally fictional, and today the way it is treated by book writer Roger O Hirson feels dated.

Jac Yarrow is suitably “Innocent” and “naive” as Pippin but imbues the role with as much meaning as is possible and puts over his songs with aplomb, especially ‘Corner of the Sky’, perhaps the best-known number in the show.

However, he is not alone as there is barely a weak link in the cast that director Jonathan O’Boyle has gathered around him. Zizi Strallen proves once again that her dancing skills are second to none, using Bob Fosse’s original choreography as interpreted by the ever-imaginative Joanna Goodwin. In the role of Charlemagne’s wife, Fastrada, she is very convincing, having that elusive charisma that lifts every scene in which she appears.

Lucie Jones as widowed farm owner Catherine has to wait until Act Two to impress with ‘Kind of Woman’ and ‘I Guess I’ll Miss the Man’.

The “Player” team of Jak Allen-Anderson, Sally Frith, Amonik Melaco and Gleanne Purcell-Brown also impress not only with their collective singing but especially with their ever-athletic, well-drilled dancing: almost every song is a ‘production number’! In addition, Idriss Kargbo as Fastrada’s dim-witted son Lewis is very amusing and Ryan Heenan makes the most of Theo, Pippin’s son.

The ArtsEd Choir, behind the orchestra on stage, provides suitable vocal backing, even if at times it is hampered in its efforts by having difficulty in being heard (sound design Autograph) and, as ever, the London Musical Theatre Orchestra under Chris Ma plays stylishly, using orchestrations based on the originals by Simon Nathan, LMTO’s Principal Orchestrator, who instinctively knows how to achieve magical results from twenty players! Although billed as a ‘concert’ everyone is costumed inventively (Polly Sullivan) and the cast performs in front of the orchestra with no set but excellent lighting by Jamie Platt.

However, I have left the best until last! Patricia Hodge was Catherine in the 1973 West End production and now, fifty-one years later, she is playing the role of Berthe, Pippin’s grandmother, originally in the hands of Elisabeth Welch. To say that her rendering of ‘No Time At All’ brought the house down is an understatement! Hodge has that stage presence and style, plus the ability to communicate with an audience that few actors are lucky enough to have! She had the audience in “the palm of her hand” and my only disappointment was that she was not allowed to sing it again, and again… It was worth attending this evening just to see and hear this great and perhaps underrated artiste!

A strange show with some marvellous music, perhaps now a tad dated, but well worth seeing! There is one more performance this evening (30 April).

4 stars

Review by John Groves

There’s magic to do in the 50th anniversary concert production of PIPPIN at the iconic Theatre Royal Drury Lane. The show will star Tony Award winner Alex Newell (Shucked), Olivier Award winner Patricia Hodge (Downton Abbey, Miranda), Lucie Jones (Waitress, Les Misérables, Wicked) Cedric Neal (Guys & Dolls, Back to the future) Zizi Strallen, (Mary Poppins, Strictly Ballroom, Follies) Jac Yarrow (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, Newsies) and featuring a 20-piece orchestra and 50-strong choir.

With an infectiously unforgettable score from four-time Grammy winner, three-time Oscar winner and musical theatre giant, Stephen Schwartz, including the classic songs Corner of the Sky and Magic to Do, PIPPIN is a soul-searching exploration of one man’s journey to find himself, his place and purpose in life.

Heir to the Frankish throne, the young prince Pippin is in search of the secret to true happiness and fulfilment. He seeks it in the glories of the battlefield, the temptations of the flesh and the intrigues of political power (after disposing of his father, King Charlemagne the Great). In the end, though, Pippin finds that happiness lies not in extraordinary endeavours, but rather in the unextraordinary moments that happen every day.

Creative Team:
Director – Jonathan O’Boyle
Choreographer – Joanna Goodwin
Music Director – Chris Ma
Set & Costume Designer – Polly Sullivan
Lighting Designer – Jamie Platt
Sound Designer – Adam Fisher
Orchestrations by Simon Nathan based on original orchestration by Larry Hochman
Casting – Jane Deitch
Producers – Katy Lipson for Aria Entertainment & Carter Dixon McGill Productions

Drury Lane Theatre Royal
Catherine Street, London, United Kingdon, WC2B 5JF
29th – 30th April 2024
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Author

  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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