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Barnstormers bring some spice to Schwartz's Pippin

By NATALIE BERKMAN | April 9, 2008

The Barnstormers "have magic to do, just for you," and they're bringing it in the form of Pippin, a hit musical from the '70s. There are three more performances, and they promise "intrigue - plots to bring disaster; humor - handled by a master; romance - sex presented pastorally; illusion - fantasy to study; battles - barbarous and bloody" and much more.

Pippin presents the story of the son of Charlemagne, the title character, who is searching for the meaning of life: his "corner of the sky." In a sort of Candide-like journey, he tries nearly everything a person can do in a lifetime in the pursuit of what he wants. Stephen Schwartz's music is pleasant and his lyrics clever. Audiences might recognize Schwartz's sound from the hit show, Wicked, another of his musicals.

The presentation of the plot is sort of a play within a play as a group of actors help Pippin to find the meaning of his life. These actors are interesting and often satirical, playing off of the audience, the pit orchestra, the tech crew and anyone else they can find. Many aspects of the story are unexpected, and thus often humorous.

Pippin was indeed the son of Charlemagne, but that doesn't mean this story has any semblance of truth. However going to see a musical is a willing suspension of disbelief, so it doesn't ultimately matter if the story is accurate or not. One attends a musical specifically for the unique telling of its story.

This production of Pippin was cleverly staged for the Mattin Center's tiny Swirnow Theater. The only scenery was a black wall, which divided to become anything needed: Charlemagne's castle, a chapel, a farm and much more. The props were a few fake swords and arrows, a bed, some green carpet for grass and maybe a few other things, but each prop truly helped to further something in the show. Everything was absolutely necessary, making the performance fly by.

The performers all did a spectacular job performing a real Broadway musical successfully. The pit orchestra was concealed but did an incredible job keeping up with the fast pace of the performance, often responding to the leading player, sophomore Gerrad Taylor.

Taylor opened the performance and kept it going with his enthusiasm, powerful vocals and tons of energy.

Pippin was played by freshman Rob Keleher, whose youthful na'veté was very believable. For "only" being a freshman, he held his own among the rest of the cast. Keleher was on stage for practically the entire show and had many difficult songs and scenes.

Charlemagne (senior Dave Haldane) was stupid but funny, and his wife, Fastrada (sophomore Cara Selick), was conniving and witty.

Berthe (sophomore Evelyn Clark) got the audience to sing along with her, and Catherine (senior Jackie Jennings) had a lovely voice.

Overall, the cast was intriguing and enthusiastic and truly delivered the "magic" they promised.

Sadly, the music in Pippin leaves something to be desired. If asked to sing a melody from the show immediately after the performance, most people would only be able to sing the opening number at best. The melodies were all simple and cute, but not very catchy.

Overall the show itself is relatively mediocre and forgettable. However, the Barnstormers' rendition is enjoyable and certainly worth seeing. It's a fun night, but you probably won't remember much of it by the next morning.

The original Broadway production of Pippin was directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse, who, as many know, was a phenomenal director and a tough act to compete with. The crew of this production did a great job living up to Fosse's example.

The production never dulled and kept moving; the choreography was fun, and the audience appeared to enjoy the performance.

The Barnstormers managed to make a vivacious show out of a bare stage and portrayed Pippin's post-college journey in a way that makes it applicable to everyone in the audience.

The production was smooth with few glitches. The only obvious error was once at the beginning when the light didn't follow Pippin across the stage, but that can easily be overlooked considering how exact the other cues were.

Often, at the snap of a finger, lights and music responded, propelling the plot and forcing the audience to smile.

Pippin isn't a brilliant musical, but this is a fun production. Walk over, find a seat and enjoy the performance. You'll learn a little about life, and notice how it can go by in just "No Time at All."

The Barnstomers' production of Pippin will continue in the Swirnow Theater on Friday, April 11 and Saturday, April 12 at 8 p.m. and on Sunday, April 13 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $7 for the public and $5 with student ID.

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