There’s magic to do in BoHo’s season opener. In what has felt like a Chicago area Stephen Schwartz festival ("Wicked", "Godspell", "Working" and the new revue "Snapshots" staged locally within the past year), this beloved 1970’s pop/rock musical was his Broadway premier. "Pippin’s" absence during the past few years, coupled with some lyric changes and script rewrites (including a newly tweaked ending), makes this show feel fresh, relevant and welcome.
Pippin, Charlemagne’s bastard son, searches everywhere for purpose in his life (expressed musically in “Corner of the Sky”). He tries his hand at war, dabbles in art and the pastoral life, explores the pleasures of the flesh, pursues religion, revolution and political reform, ultimately learning that life is most fulfilling when it’s shared with someone you love. In what could’ve been a prosaic play about an historically insignificant prince during the Middle Ages, Schwartz and collaborator Roger O. Hirson created a tale sparkling with bawdy humor, contemporary music and choreography. Employing Brecht’s shattering of the fourth wall, the musical is anachronistic, surreal and presentational as a Leading Player and his troupe of actors invites the audience to join Pippin on his journey to enlightenment.
Director Peter Marston Sullivan’s production taps into much of today’s political and social unrest. Handsome newcomer Shaun Nathan Baer’s title character offers a sweet tenor but sometimes struggles with his connection to others. Likewise, Travis Porchia, while a skilled singer/dancer, often fails to be a very grounded Leading Player. However, Jenny Lamb’s Fastrada and Sawyer Smith’s Louis both exude appropriate sex appeal and, like the ensemble, are poetry in motion thanks to Brenda Didier’s athletic, Fosse-eque choreography. But it’s Dana Tretta’s Catherine who offers the most magic to do, providing the welcome beauty, warmth and maturity to this musical.