Pippin at Theatre Royal Drury Lane

There has been a plethora of Musical Theatre concerts in the West End recently, with varying reviews but overall it is something I am in favour of (if done well) as it means you get to rediscover shows that may not be performed very often or experience a new piece of writing so I try to get to as many as possible. With that background in mind I can say that the 50th Anniversary Concert of Pippin may have been the best musical theatre concert I have seen in recent years.

Pippin itself is a show that opened on Broadway in 1972 and it tells of Pippin, the oldest son of King Charlemagne who decides that he wants to do something extraordinary with his life. In doing so he tries war, ruling, women and finally leading an ordinary life until he is faced with the ultimate decision. It is actually the 6th time I have reviewed Pippin having seen plenty of different takes on it, yet despite this being billed as a concert, it is the first one that has made me want to return again and again.

The music by Stephen Schwartz soars in this production. With an orchestra of 20 under the watchful baton of Chris Ma, a 47 strong choir from Arts Ed, all combined with melodies that have stood the 50 year test of time it is a joy to hear these songs performed on stage. There were moments of levity including an audience sing along in ‘No Time At All,’ as well as more tender moments such as ‘Love Song’ as well as, of course, the infamous ‘Corner of the Sky.’

What really elevated this concert however was the cast who were performing these numbers and Jane Deitch, the casting director needs to be given all of the awards now for getting the entire company so spot on. Each cast member was individually fantastic but they also worked brilliantly as a collective. Alex Newell took on the role of the Leading Player and after their Tony award for best actor it is easy to see their star quality. Newell commands the stage from the very first chord and has the audience eating out of the palm of her hand throughout. Their vocals were jaw dropping and their comedy timing and charisma oozed out of them. Jac Yarrow took on the role of Pippin as he bounded around the stage like an enthusiastic puppy initially, growing worldly wise as the show went on. He rarely left the stage and his performance never faltered as he sang iconic songs, danced flawlessly and somehow managed to get the audience to like, what can often be, a slightly unsympathetic character.

Cedric Neal played Charlemagne and his stage presence meant that whenever he was present the audience were smiling along with him. Zizi Strallen nearly stopped the show as Fastrada and her dance heavy and sexed up rendition of Spread A Little Sunshine is worth the ticket price alone. Patricia Hodge comes full circle having made her West End debut in Pippin and she delighted the audience with the traditional Pippin sing along and followed the up with getting carried off stage by 2 of the Players and creating the biggest applause of the night. Lucie Jones was the ordinary woman, Catherine and she played up the ditzy element of the role, really enhancing the comedy element, whilst, as always, delivering sublime vocals.

Idriss Kargbo played Pippin’s warmongering younger brother Lewis and I adored the campness he brought to the part, an interpretation I hadn’t seen before and Ryan Heenan played Theo with a touching innocence. Finally the cast were completed with 4 players – Jak Allen-Anderson, Sally Frith, Amonik Melaco and Gleanne Purcell-Brown who appeared in huge swathes of the show, and ranging in performing Fosse style choreography to holding rich harmony lines in numbers such as Morning Glow. It reads as if my thoughts on this cast are simply full of superlatives and you would be right.

You may have noticed that I have mentioned the dance on several occasions. Pippin is known for its dance and I was curious as to how this would work in a concert version but the choreography by Joanna Goodwin was so well thought out and executed that I simply forgot that I was watching a concert. The show, by the nature of the fact that it was a concert was light on set but this didn’t matter as the lighting design by Jamie Platt worked overtime and ensured that the stage never felt lacking. There were a few minor niggles with the sound, a few late mic pick ups and I would have liked the choir to be louder but in comparison to some of the concerts I have seen staged this was easily overlooked.

As someone who has seen Pippin at least 6 times I didn’t think I would be writing this but this production has converted me…. where do I begin the petition to bring this production to the West End for a longer run.

There is one more performance tonight (30th April) but you can find out more about producers Aria Entertainment on their website.

If you like this review you might also like my review of Guys & Dolls, Two Strangers Carry A Cake Across New York and MJ The Musical.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *