Arts & Culture

BUGS’ ‘Pippin’ carves out its own ‘corner of the sky’

Musical, directed by Ahmed Ashour ’19, stays true to original show’s extravagant theatricality

By
Staff Writer
Sunday, November 26, 2017

Brown University Gilbert and Sullivan, a student-led theater group, produced a jazzy, intimate take on the acclaimed Broadway musical “Pippin”

that left audiences wide-eyed at the cast’s ability to remain animated throughout the show’s whirlwind of campy choral chaos.

The musical, directed by Ahmed Ashour ’19, ran for four days from Nov. 17 to 20. It followed a romantic, introspective young prince, Pippin, played by Jake Polinksy ’20, on an epic quest to find existential fulfillment, or, in his words, a “corner of the sky.” Pippin’s aspirations for greatness are regularly thwarted by his cruel, cheeky father King Charlemagne (Kevin Madoian ’19), his meddling stepmother Fastrada (Julia Moore ’21 and Annalie Brody ’20) and his “strong and stupid” stepbrother Lewis (Elias Solis ’21), whose sociopathic tendencies make him better suited for the errands of feudal lordship than Pippin, the rightful heir to his father’s throne. The most dynamic character in the ensemble was the flirtatious, scantily clad “Leading Player,” played by Brendan George ’18, who served as the musical’s spiritual coxswain, guiding the audience through the narrative and taking the helm of its many songs and dances. The show was accompanied by the booming 21-person Shadow Orchestra led by musical director and Herald staff writer Shayna Toh ’20.

According to Ashour’s note to the audience, the cast intended to offer “a more raw perspective (of Pippin) than the glitzy Broadway revival.” Gilbert and Sullivan’s interpretation did a masterful job of staying true to the show’s extravagant theatricality while keeping its content emotionally accessible. Though Polinksy’s lackadaisical, mild-mannered portrayal of Pippin at times made the protagonist seem disengaged, the actors overall did a fabulous job embodying characters that were truly invested in their fates and relationships, regardless of the plot’s frequent tacks toward absurdity. The punchlines — often barbed critiques of religion, capitalism and oppressive institutions — were well executed, and though the script was saturated with sexual innuendo, the crude humor never grew stale. Madoian and Talia Brenner ’19 deserve special mention for outstanding acting and dance, and George’s performance merits acclaim usually reserved for Broadway professionals.

While Pippin was by and large a success, technical shortcomings occasionally thwarted its coherency, an inevitable repercussion of staging a fully orchestrated musical in the acoustically ill-equipped Alumnae Hall. Between the 21-person orchestra and the heavily-amplified singing, you occasionally had to fight the instinct to muffle your ears, and certain major plot points were lost in the clamor of instrumentals.

All earaches aside, the show was so teeming with the oft-mentioned libidinous “magic” that the audience stayed engaged throughout. The wild-eyed players often frolicked through the aisles and addressed audience members, asking them to turn to certain pages in their playbills or inviting them to sing along. Perhaps most amusing was when the show broke the fourth wall with ironic humor, such as when King Charlemagne declared, “Now we sack and pillage!” then winked at the audience and added, “We also have to sing. That’s absolutely essential.”

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