Valdosta Daily Times


March 29, 2013

VSU Theatre’s ‘Pippin’ is a pip of a good time

VALDOSTA — Valdosta State University Theatre & Dance creates a fun and powerful show with its musical production of Stephen Schwartz-Bob Fosse’s “Pippin.”

Eric Brandt Nielsen, the show’s director-choreographer, creates a dynamic stage presence with this show that blends one-liners with war, dance with existential angst, the power of love against each person’s small corner of mortality. Nielsen maintains a brisk pace of tapping feet and dialog patter, but a pace that beautifully allows moments to reflect during the whirlwind of song, dance and plot.

As vocal director, Christopher Bailey has the cast’s voices in top form. Ruth A. Brandvik’s scenery and lighting remains spartan but evokes the needed atmosphere and depth to bring each scene to life. Esther Iverson’s provocative costume designs capture both the show’s setting of the Middle Ages as well as the “Pippin’s” premiere era of the 1970s. Technical director Michael Driggers balances all of the show’s elements to perfection. Matthew C. Mainella conducts the show’s live orchestra with depth and whimsy always complementing the onstage actors’ voices, never overpowering them.

The performers are a non-stop marvel. The majority of the cast serves as an ensemble appearing as soldiers, dancing girls, peasants, and numerous other supporting characters, with grace and humor throughout the show.

Jessica Mathis and Michael McClain’s tender and funny performances as the widow and her son capture the audience’s hearts far more quickly than they can attract the ambitious Pippin.

As Pippin’s grandmother Berthe, Ashley Anderson belts out the show-stopping number “No Time at All.” Watching her play the winking, earthy Berthe, it’s fun to recall that Anderson is the same performer who so ably played the youthful innocence of Shakespeare’s Juliet only a few seasons ago. As Berthe, Anderson is great fun in this rousing sing-along number.

Sarah Beth Mosely and Ethan Parker are a perfect match as the devious Queen Fastrada and her son, the doltish Lewis, who is also Pippin’s half-brother. They have fun scooping out each delightful moment of their respective performances.

Max Swangel is also fun to watch as Charlemagne, Pippin’s kingly father. Swangel brings a bass power to Charlemagne, striding across the stage as a king might conquer a continent.

But this show belongs to Emmanuel Davis as Leading Player and Chance Wall as Pippin. Both student actors gave memorable performances in VSU Theatre & Dance’s “The Would-Be Gentleman” earlier this season, but they dig deeper and shine brighter in “Pippin.”

As the Leading Player, Davis is the show’s provocateur ... he is the tempter, the provider and he must be all things as the character as well as a performer. Emmanuel Davis dances, sings, tosses out one-liners, and keeps the show moving as an informal master of ceremonies with eye-catching grace; he works every single moment without ever appearing to have to work hard. An amazing performance.

As Pippin, Wall runs the gamut of a young man’s life: innocence, naiveté, enthusiasm, ambitious dreaming, lust, rebellion, planning how he will create a better world, repeated disillusionments, despair, renewed ambition, finding love as a husband and father ... Chance Wall manages to cover all of these bases with wit and a strong singing voice within the show’s two-hour running time. A splendid performance.

Nielsen explores the era of “Pippin’s” creation. He retains the Broadway sensuality while remembering that this show plays in South Georgia. With its tale of kings and princes, Nielsen deserves a crown for this magical and memorable show.

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