All photos by James Baker.
With its' boldly patterned costumes, brightly colored set, and mime-esque makeup design, the collaborative production of Pippin through UW-Milwaukee Waukesha and Lake Country Playhouse is certainly a lot to look at. Fortunately, the powerful themes of this theatre standard still shine through the frenzied visuals and remind audiences why the tale of Prince Pippin continues to be told 40 some years after its' debut.
Romesh Alex Jaya, as the Leading Player, drives the show. His sultry presence is an enticing invitation to come along with the company for the length of the play. Vocally, Jaya is one of the highlights of the performance. Jazz with an edge, Jaya weaves the Leading Player's magic through the very notes he sings.
As the second act rolls around, Catherine (Ashley Sprangers) takes the lead on the narrative. Sprangers shows surprising layers to the quirky character, from her maternal side with her son Theo (Caleb Cady) to the sweet romantics between herself and Pippin. Her performance in "I Guess I'll Miss the Man" is a tender moment in the whirlwind tale.
In the title role, Allan Zablocki is no match to Jaya's or Sprangers' vocal technique. However, Pippin may be the most endearing of the trio. With vibrant dance experience, Zablocki brings a plucky, youthful energy to the stage. Even as the other characters embitter towards Pippin's seemingly helpless search for meaning in life, Zablocki keeps audiences invested in the desperate importance of his journey.
Additional numbers featuring supporting characters Charlemagne (Karl Miller), Fastrada (Kelly Kuczkowski), and Berthe (Maggie Wirth) fill the remainder of the performance with clever humor and wow-worthy showstoppers. Wirth especially wins audience favor with her rollicking sing-along,"No Time at All".
Ryan Cappleman's exaggerated choreography is a perfect fit for the nontraditional storytelling. Not only does he give Zablocki some exciting solos (see "Right Track" or "Extraordinary"), but his work with the ensemble of players is simply phenomenal. The unison stylings of "War is a Science" are key to the formation of the armies at hand. The comedy in Pippin is brought out in the ensemble dancing and strung throughout the entirety of the choreography.
The set, costume, and makeup designs are each, in their own right, a fit for the show. The mime inspired makeup maintains the reality that the storytellers are here to entertain you, a recurring notion in the text. The costumes, courtesy of Jazmin Aurora Medina, are versatile. The ensemble changes from mere players to warriors in a split second. Steve Decker, co-director with Sandra Renick and scenic designer, creates whimsy in his fantastical bridges between audience and stage.
Unfortunately, the combination of all of these concepts at once gives audiences a bit too much to take in. The clash of the three visuals makes it challenging to truly appreciate any one of the aspects at a time, evoking a touch of sensory overload.
That aside, Pippin is a classic for good reason. It is a story of a boy who thinks himself as extraordinary, and learns to embrace the extraordinary beauty in an average life. In the hands of Decker and Renick, not only does this story retain its' thematic value, but it sets the precedent for future collaborative successes between UW-Milwaukee Waukesha and Lake Country Playhouse.