‘Pippin,” the show opening the 2017 Princeton Summer Theater (PST) season, is a very tricky musical. It has had two huge Broadway productions — the first starring Ben Vereen in 1972 and the second with Patina Miller in the starring role in 2013. Incidentally both won Tony Awards for their performances, the first time a Tony has gone to different genders in the same role. But, in spite of lots of awards and fine reviews, it is a complicated work. Unconventional and anachronistic, it involves real historical characters in entirely fictional times and settings.
Even the director of the PST production, Sam Weisberg, admits, “In ‘Pippin’ we are presented with a show that perhaps attempts to do too much. It has always been a mosaic, more a glomming together of great artistic minds than a singular vision brought to life. Its titular character’s narrative is only one moving part in a story that seems to try to talk about everything.”
That said, the production at Hamilton Murray Theater on the university campus is the most interesting, finest staging of the work in years. It has a company of superb young actors, a confident director (the previously mentioned Weisberg), exciting technical people: lights by Alex Manni; choreography, Cori Cook Burkett; sound, Naveen Bhatia; and set design, Joseph Haggerty. An unbeatable combination.
The cast is a delicate mixture of various college talents from Princeton, Rider University, New York and Temple universities, and others. You will find them all talented, but I admit my favorites included powerfully voiced Kyle Mangold as Pippin (currently studying musical theater at Shenandoah Conservatory); Elliott Masters, demonstrating a wonderful stage presence as Pippin’s father, Charlemagne; Abby Melick who steals an entire scene with her “No Time at All”; and Renee Gagner leading an audience sing-along in “Spread A Little Sunshine.”
Do yourself a real favor — don’t miss this one.
Pippin, Princeton Summer Theater, Hamilton Murray Theater, Princeton University, through Sunday, July 9. Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. $24.50 to $29.50.
The season continues with Agatha Christie’s “The Spider Web,” July 13 through 23; Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible,” July 27 through August 6; and contemporary American playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ Obie-award winning “Appropriate,” August 10 through 20.
For tickets or information: 732-997-0205 or www.princetonsummertheater.org.