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RLT’s Rendition of Pippin Is Entirely Enjoyable, with Star Turns by Deanna Richards, Jesse Farmer, and Rebecca Johnston

The RLT rendition of <em>Pippin</em> stars Jesse Farmer (top center) as Pippin (photo by Areon Mobasher)

The RLT rendition of Pippin stars Jesse Farmer (top center) as Pippin (photo by Areon Mobasher)

The 1972 Broadway production of Pippin is a Tony®- and Drama Desk Award-winning creation by some of the masters of the Broadway stage, with signature choreography of Bob Fosse, music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, and a book by Roger O. Hirson, who passed away only a few days before Raleigh Little Theatre’s version of his play opened on Friday, May 31st. RLT‘s rendition of Pippin, which tells the story of a boy who yearns for a life full of meaning and importance, is a classic Broadway show, with recognizable songs and great roles that require a combination of singing, dancing, and acting talents.

The folks at Raleigh Little Theater have employed all of these factors to their benefit and created a community-theater production of the Broadway hit that had the audience laughing all the way through during the opening-night performance. From the moment The Leading Player (Deanna Richards) dances onstage, dressed in an outfit reminiscent of a circus ringmaster, the audience can see the mark of Fosse’s choreography on the show.

Richards’ dancing is sharp, her jazz hands expressive; and throughout the rest of the show, she shines as the narrator who keeps the characters in line, telling them of their roles and reminding them to keep up their performances.

Through The Leading Player, the audience is introduced to the brilliance of metafiction in this play, the study of a story within a story, and those moments also give rise to some of the funniest in the production, with Deanna Richards’ perfect sense of timing and athletic voice punctuating the humor. It’s surprising that Richards is a rising junior at William Peace University, because her skills are those of someone far more experienced. She’s both impressive and animated, a delight to watch.

The cast includes Sarah Preston, Doug Kapp as Charles, and Bryan Bunch (photo by Areon Mobasher)

The cast includes Sarah Preston, Doug Kapp as Charles, and Bryan Bunch (photo by Areon Mobasher)

Richards isn’t the only actor who shines in this performance. All of the leading roles are strong and destined for larger stages than the Raleigh Little Theater, especially Pippin himself, Jesse Farmer. Another Peace student, Farmer has graced the RLT stage several times; and his smooth, precise and beautiful voice is both tender and strong, easily skipping from upbeat numbers to ballads without any effort at all. Though his dancing skills are a bit lacking, his acting makes up for that; and this production couldn’t have chosen a better lead.

Pippin (c. 714-68), son of Charlemagne (747-814), is royalty who doesn’t want to be royalty, but then decides he should be. In short, he’s a teenager trying to find himself; and finally, after many years of mistakes, discovers what he needed was family, after all. His parents, King ), are smart casting choices by RLT artistic director Patrick Torres. Kapp’s voice is that of an experienced stage actor; and when he sings, the audience wants more.

Amy White’s voice is also accomplished, but it’s her pure evil glee in this role hat makes her one to watch. Pippin’s grandmother Berthe, played by the absolutely wonderful Rebecca Johnston, gives Pippin the best advice in “No Time at All” and brings down the house.

RLT's production of <em>Pippin</em> stars Rebecca Johnston as Berthe (photo by Areon Mobasher)

RLT‘s production of Pippin stars Rebecca Johnston as Berthe (photo by Areon Mobasher)

When Pippin finds that he fails at being a soldier and can’t find his footing as king, he literally falls into Catherine’s life. She is a housewife and mother (“just like you,” she reminds the audience) and is delightfully played by Molly Hamelin, a third-grade teacher from Sanford, who’s gracing the RLT stage for the first time.

Catherine’s son Theo (played by Lawson Walker) offers Pippin another perspective and pulls no punches. Walker’s delivery of his often surprising, pithy pieces of advice, got the biggest laughs of the night; and he’s both adorable, as well as talented.

Like any community theater, the troupe is rounded out with those who love acting and have great fun doing so. That’s easy to see in any RLT performance. Though they might be a bit awkward dancing on stage and slightly crippled by stage fright, their dedication to their roles and the performance makes for an entirely enjoyable evening.

Deanna Richards (top center) stars as The Leading Player in <em>Pippin</em> (photo by Areon Mobasher)

Deanna Richards (center) stars as The Leading Player in Pippin (photo by Areon Mobasher)

SECOND OPINION: June 4th Cary, NC RDU on Stage review by Kim Jackson: https://rduonstage.com/2019/06/04/review-rlts-pippin-defies-any-preconceived-expectations-and-impresses-with-heart/ and June 2nd podcast with The Godspell Experience author Carol de Giere, conducted by Lauren Van Hemert: https://rduonstage.com/podcast/ep-22-carol-de-giere-on-stephen-schwartz-defying-gravity-and-pippin/; June 3rd Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh BWW Review by Jeffrey Kare: https://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Review-Raleigh-Little-Theatres-PIPPIN-20190603; June 3rd Raleigh, NC Chatham Life & Style review by Dustin K. Britt (who awarded the show 3.5 of 5 stars): https://chathamlifeandstyle.com/reviews-and-features; and May 29th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://indyweek.com/events/pippin/.

Raleigh Little Theatre presents PIPPIN at 8 p.m. June 6-8, 3 p.m. June 9, 8 p.m. June 13-15, and 3 p.m. June 16 in RLT‘s Cantey V. Sutton Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.

TICKETS: $28 ($24 students and seniors 62+).

BOX OFFICE: 919-821-3111 or https://raleighlittletheatre.secure.force.com/.

SHOW: https://raleighlittletheatre.org/shows/pippin/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/468646820584355/.

RLT‘S 2018-19 SEASON: https://raleighlittletheatre.org/shows-and-events/memberships/.

PRESENTER: https://raleighlittletheatre.org/, https://www.facebook.com/RaleighLittleTheatre, https://twitter.com/RLT1936, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raleigh_Little_Theatre, and http://www.youtube.com/user/raleighlittletheatre.

VENUE: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/tickets/seating.html.

MAPS/DIRECTIONS: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/about/map-directions.html.

PARKING: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/about/parking.html.

NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices are available for all shows. RLT has also installed a hearing loop in the Cantey V. Sutton Theatre.

NOTE 2: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 3 p.m. Sunday, June 9th, performance.

NOTE 3: The 8 p.m. Thursday, June 13th, performance will be American Sign Language interpreted.

OTHER LINKS:

Pippin (1972 Broadway and 1973 West End musical): http://www.pippinthemusical.com/ (official website), http://www.musicalschwartz.com/pippin.htm (MusicalSchwartz.com), http://www.mtishows.com/show_detail.asp?showid=000060 (Music Theatre International), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/pippin-7111 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pippin_(musical) (Wikipedia).

Study Guide: http://www.bard.org/education/studyguides/Pippin/pippin.html (Utah Shakespeare Festival).

Stephen Schwartz (music and lyrics): http://www.stephenschwartz.com/ (official website), http://www.musicalschwartz.com/ (official fan site), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/stephen-schwartz-12375 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0777451/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Schwartz_(composer) (Wikipedia).

Roger O. Hirson (book): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/roger-o-hirson-6311 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0386678/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_O._Hirson (Wikipedia).

Patrick Torres (director and RLT artistic director): http://raleighlittletheatre.org/people/patrick-torres/ (RLT bio) and https://www.facebook.com/patrick.torres.585 (Facebook page).

REVIEWER:

Dawn Reno Langley is the award-winning author of The Mourning Parade, as well as other novels, children’s books, nonfiction books, essays, short stories, poems, and articles. She is the creator of The Writer’s Hand Journals and runs workshops on using journals in every walk of life. A Fulbright Scholar, she holds the MFA in Fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, VT, and the PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies from Union Institute and University. She lives in Durham with her dog, Izzy. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/.

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Categorised in: A&E Theatre Reviews, Lead Story, Reviews