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Review: Show Palace’s Pippin daring and dangerous

By Barbara L. Fredricksen
The revival circus-inspired production of "Pippin" opens Jan. 13 at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre in Hudson.

HUDSON —If you saw the musical Pippin when it first hit Broadway in 1972, or a high school drama club version, or even a touring company rendition a decade ago, it’s not exactly the Pippin you’ll see if you’re wise enough to go see the spectacular modern version playing at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre through Feb. 18.

This revamped version is edgier, with overt political barbs, anti-war sentiments, a cynical take on religion and the more satisfying ending added around the time the Tony Award-winning revival opened on Broadway in 2013.

Director Jonathan Van Dyke’s Show Palace production is wildly exciting, filled with dazzling costumes, thrilling acrobats and terrific dancers doing choreographer Shain Stroff’s eye-popping dances and singing Stephen Schwartz’s catchy tunes, including the hummable Magic to Do. At one point, aerialist Emily Bainbridge whirls down from the ceiling so close to audience members, they catch a breeze from her fall.

Set designer Jeff Webber turns the theater into a circus tent, with red, white and blue streamers.

And Van Dyke sends his actors into the audience so frequently that everyone begins to feel like a part of the show.

This is, arguably, the Show Palace’s most daring and dangerous production since it opened more than 20 years ago.

It’s the apocryphal story of Pippin, the son of King Charlemagne in the Middle Ages, though it has no relation to real history nor any particular time period. In it, Pippin is disillusioned by his father’s way of ruling the land and sets out to live a life of purpose and meaning. He falls in with a troupe of performers who take him through a series of experiences to help him on his quest.

Its unconventional presentation is a sort of play-within-a-play. A character called Leading Player (a tough-as-nails Imani Williams) commands the action, talking directly to the audience and sometimes chastising other cast members for their performances and making them re-do their scenes. Pippin’s life then becomes a play, and he’s just a player in it.

It’s most enchanting, with a marvelous cast of 18 in almost constant motion. Trenton Bainbridge is a charming Pippin, with a voice as pure and clear as the innocent, naive young prince he portrays and a six-pack to rival Hugh Jackman’s.

Heather Baird makes a lovely Catherine, the youngish widow who could make his life complete if he would just let her.

Pierre Tannous is just-right as the nefarious Lewis, Pippin’s slimy, ambitious stepbrother being egged on by his equally vile mother Fastrada (Heather Krueger). Jay Goldberg is at his best as the flouncy, petulant Charlemagne — cruel but pragmatic about the job of being almighty ruler. Kudos to Ellie Pattison, who stepped in at the last moment to play Pippin’s grandmother Berthe after the original actor became ill. Pattison plays the role with cool confidence and warm charm.

The scene-stealer is young Maddox Padgett, who plays Theo — widow Catherine’s bratty son. He recently played Chip in Beauty and the Beast at the Show Palace. This time around, he shows off his considerable singing voice, as well as his acting skills.

The 12 ensemble members are seasoned performers with impressive credentials who deliver one high-energy precision dance after another. Watch for the well-muscled Kurt Krynski, a professional aerialist and Busch Gardens veteran, whose daring feats will take your breath away.

Pippin’s quirky presentation may be a tad disconcerting to some, but the pageantry and energy will appeal to all.