In the year 769, the great King Charlemagne welcomed his first born son into the world. Quite a lot is known about the child, but this is not some boring history lesson, as in the mid-1960s composer Stephen Schwartz decided the son’s story was an ideal subject for a musical. A few years later, and with a book a by Roger O. Hirson, the show was born. Its name is Pippin and is currently being given a well deserved run out by Sedos at the Bridewell Theatre.
Narrated by the Leading Player (Corin Miller), this is the story of young Pippin (Joe Thompson-Oubari) and his travels as he tries to find out where he belongs in the world. Yes, he is the eldest son of Charlemagne (Kris Webb) and heir to the throne – much to the annoyance of his stepmother Fastrada (Vicky Terry) and half-brother Lewis (Paul Nicholas Dyke) – but he feels there should be more to his life than this. Having completed university, Pippin sets out to find his place. He tries being a soldier, then goes to the countryside for peace and quiet, where he visits his grandmother, Berthe (Annie Houseago) who gives him some sage advice on what he should do. Pippin samples life from all angles and is still not satisfied. Maybe the widowed Catherine (Charlie Welch) and her son Theo (Matthew Cise/Jake Purton) can help Pippin in his quest to find meaning, or maybe the Leading Player has her own idea of what should happy to the naive and confused young prince.
As I started to write this, I was trying to think of one word that adequately summed up Pippin in my head. Finally, I hit on it. The word was surreal. Pippin is definitely no ordinary musical. For a start, all the cast know it is a show – hence the reason the narrator is called the Leading Player. This means that everything in young Pippin’s ‘journey’ is preordained right? Well, yes and no. Without going into too much detail, just like reality, Pippin’s story doesn’t necessarily go the way it is expected to. This, to my mind, lifts the show from a normal, if rather splendid, musical into something deeper and darker that keeps all the musical elements I need but adds a touch of magic to the proceedings seldom seen in musical theatre. It is also a show that is happy to adapt to the changing world around it. For example. The, now standard ‘Theo Ending’ was first added to the show when it was performed at the Bridewell in 1998. There is a definite sense of timelessness about the story and the show itself which makes the story accessible and relevant to any audience.
Once again Sedos have brought together a fabulous group of actors for this show. Particular credit has to go to Corin Miller as The leading Player for her performance. A mix of narrator, temptress, control freak and malevolent spirit, Corin is on stage pretty much all the time and moves sinuously around, skillfully manipulating – using everything from sex appeal to bullying – those around her to ‘perform’ the way she wants. Equally excellent is Joe Thompson-Oubari in the title role. Naive, self-centred and entitled, Pippin could be annoying but in the hands of Joe, he is an endearing guy and it’s easy to identify with the young man trying to find his place in the world. Special mention also has to go to Annie Houseago as Pippin’s grandmother Berhe. Annie really relishes her time on stage and the audience can’t help falling in love with this feisty and sprightly woman – who even got me to join in with the chorus during ‘No Time at All’, something I normally avoid like the plague.
Speaking of people enjoying the show, I couldn’t help noticing orchestra conductor Ed Curry as he led his team on the balcony overlooking the stage. There was a real exuberance to his conducting and, there were occasions when I could see him singing along with some of the songs with a massive smile on his face – not something you often see in a theatre.
But, that sums up Pippin really well. Everything from the minimalist set to Paul Brookland Williams’ wonderfully Fosse-inspired choreography works so well in this production. DIrector Chris Adams has a large performing space to play with and a cast of nineteen first class actors, singers and dancers to fill it with which he does in fabulous style. From quiet intimate moments of contemplation to massive jazz hands dominated dance numbers, Pippin has it all.
Reading the programme, I was amazed that when Pippin was first performed in London in 1973, it only ran for 85 performances. If ever a show was crying out for a large scale return to the West End, then Pippin is the one and, my advice is to all the members of Sedos, give up the day jobs and take it there.
Review by Terry Eastham
The award-winning musical Pippin returns to the Bridewell Theatre from 9-19 May in a new production staged by Sedos, the City of London’s premier amateur theatre company.
Ambitious young man Pippin is ready to change the world. But things are never that simple. Setting out to make his mark, Pippin dabbles with the horrors of war, the lure of sex and the sordid world of politics, failing at every turn. But there is someone Pippin can rely on. Someone he can trust. Someone who can help Pippin be remembered forever… in one final, extraordinary blaze of glory.
With its infectious and unforgettable score from four-time Grammy and three-time Oscar winner Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Godspell, Children of Eden) and its iconic choreography by Bob Fosse, Pippin has delighted audiences across the world since the original production in 1973. The most recent Broadway revival swept the New York awards circuit, including winning the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical.
The Sedos team are delighted to bring Pippin back to the Bridewell, a theatre that holds a special place in the history of the show. The now widely used “Theo ending” was first staged at the Bridewell exactly 20 years ago.
LEADING PLAYER | Corin Miller
PIPPIN | Joe Thompson-Oubari
CHARLEMAGNE | Kris Webb
LEWIS | Paul Nicholas Dyke
FASTRADA | Vicky Terry
BERTHE | Annie Houseago
CATHERINE | Charlie Welch
THEO | Matthew Cise / Jake Purton
Hannah Parker Smith
Vaughan Watts (dance captain)
DIRECTOR | Chris Adams
MUSICAL DIRECTOR | Sophie Wright
CHOREOGRAPHER | Paul Brookland Williams
ASSISTANT MUSICAL DIRECTOR | Ed Curry
PRODUCERS | Lizzie Drapper and Pippa Kyle
LIGHTING DESIGNER | Oliver Levett
SOUND DESIGNERS | Adrian Jeakins and Henry Whittaker
SET BUILDER | Steven King
COSTUMES | Clare Harding
TECHNICAL STAGE MANAGER | Giles Burden
COMPANY STAGE MANAGER AND COMMITTEE LIAISON | Rebecca Chisholm
ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER | Peter Shimmin
BANNER DESIGN AND CREATION | Lesley Birch
SOUND ASSISTANT | Adam Coppard
IMAGE AND FLYER DESIGN | Rebecca Pitt
MARKETING AND PROGRAMME DESIGN | Pippa Kyle
PHOTOGRAPHERS | Michael Smith, Chris Adams and Paul Nicholas Dyke
Book by ROGER O. HIRSON
Music and Lyrics by STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
Book by Roger O.Hirson
Music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Box office: sedos.co.uk
7.30pm, plus Saturday matinees at 2.30pm
Bridewell Theatre, Bride Lane, London, EC4Y 8EQ