PICKSINSIX Review: PIPPIN
“THIS “PIPPIN” IS A CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT!”
It was a busy Saturday night at the Mercury Theater Chicago on North Southport. “AVENUE Q,” — or, as I like to refer to it, the puppet juggernaut “AQ2,” since it recently surpassed 100 performances on its second run in four years and is now extended through December 30th — had capacity crowds at 5:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. While the puppet-handlers were on dinner break, a steady stream of patrons was veering off to the right into the shadowy and steamy Venus Cabaret Theater for the much-anticipated second show at the new venue, the iconic 1972 Stephen Schwartz hit “PIPPIN.”
In a stroke of genius by the manager of the Mercury’s Traffic Control and Scheduling Department, the staggered performance times allowed for the delay of any lobby mayhem until “PIPPIN” got out, which happened to coincide with the intermission of “AQ2.” Nobody seemed to notice at all because everyone was happily chattering about what was behind Door “P” and behind Door “Q.” Venus is definitely coming into alignment with Mercury. This “PIPPIN” is a crowning achievement!
The main character of “AQ2,” Princeton and Pippin are each trying to find their “purpose” in shows that could not be more different in musical style, tone and presentation. The absurdly fun “AQ2” is about puppets searching for the inner meaning of life. The Venus production of “PIPPIN” — under the direction of L. Walter Stearns, featuring the expertly stylized, Fosse-infused choreography of Brenda Didier, the razor-sharp musical direction of Eugene Dizon and performed by a trio under the direction of piano/conductor Andrew Milliken – emerges as the realization that if there is hope and love, nothing else matters.
The Leading Player (a commanding performance by Donterrio Johnson) moves in and out among his Players, who frame the familiar story of Charlemagne (Don Forston), Charles son’s Pippin (Koray Tarhan) and half-brother, Lewis (Adam Fane) and Lewis’ mother, Fastrada (a ‘mistressful turn’ for the multi-talented Sawyer Smith). Along the way from soldier, to ruler and ultimately, his corner of the sky, Pippin receives all kinds of guidance and advice from his grandmother, Berthe (the incomparable Iris Lieberman) in “Time To Start Living.” Tarhan’s quiet “With You” and “Love Song” with Catherine (Nicole Armold) are memorable Schwartz ballads. The Ensemble also includes Kayla Boye, Michael Rawls and a nice performance by Gabriel Robert in the role of young Theo.
The big numbers are on full throttle including Johnson and Company in “Magic To Do” and “Right Track”… Tarhan’s “Corner of the Sky” and “Morning Glow”… Armold’s “Average Everyday Woman” …and Smith’s “Spread A Little Sunshine.” There is a special place for everyone in “War is a Science,” a scene that includes a very amusing topographical element (video and projections by G. Max Maxim IV) before the men go marching out into the fray, replete throughout in Rachel Boylan’s dazzling costumes.
Venus Cabaret Theater is evolving into an epicenter for innovative, high tech, cabaret-style musical productions. For “PIPPIN,” the colorful, new show that works exceptionally well on the darker, more mysterious, side of the cabaret spectrum, veer just to the right through Door “P.”
VENUS CABARET THEATER
through December 16th
3741 North Southport