So you’ve heard of Pippin? Have you heard of Beth Tfiloh Community Theatre? Cast all previous conceptions aside and let Beth Tfiloh Community Theatre do their thing because they’ve got magic to do! Oh, it’s time to start living! Time to take in this performance that they’re giving! Time to take time to go see Pippin! And you’ll love it all— in just no time at all. Directed by Diane M. Smith with Musical Direction by Chris Rose and Choreography by James Hunnicutt, this classic Stephen Schwartz musical is a parade of spectacle, a circus of razzle-dazzle, and an evening’s entertainment that you will most thoroughly enjoy!
Tucked away in its own little corner of Pikesville, The Beth Tfiloh Community Theatre sets up shop inside the Minteze Theatre on top of a gloriously circus-inspired set designed by Evan Margolis. The circus-tent ropes and fire-poles are reminiscent of the original cobbled together nature of the show’s origins, which lends itself nicely to the play inside the play! Laura Poehlman-Lavon’s lighting enhances the more spectacle-induced elements, though at times some of the fancier twirling gobos in their bright and sprightly colors appear a bit distorted when projected on the walls outside the proscenium. Matching the dazzling notion of spectacle and marvel, Costume Designer Nicole Smith, with her legion of assistants— Sharon Byrd, Tiffany Zellner, Samuel Boelens— puts a bright and shining spin on the sartorial selection featured on all of the players. Keeping with the exotic circus and almost gypsy-inspired theme, rainbows of all colors make their way into the festivities on everybody except the Lead Player— done up in black— and Pippin— in a neutral gray. Even Charles gets sparkly, spangly glitter, and Berthe gets an outrageous bright pink number that accents her larger than life personality.
There’s a lot of clean, simplistic dance motion happening throughout the larger group numbers like “War is a Science”, which features crisp in-place marching, or “Glory”, which features a lot of swaying, all thanks to Choreographer James Hunnicutt. Assessing the large quantity of individuals in the ensemble, Hunnicutt keeps the dance steps basic so that there aren’t large collisions upon the stage with so many people moving emphatically about during the more upbeat numbers. Matching the succinctness of Hunnicutt’s choreography, Musical Director Chris Rose leads the live off-stage band with a firm ear for balancing them against the singers. Keeping pace and keeping the band from drowning out the soloists, Rose creates steady sounds throughout the performance when it comes to musical numbers.
Pippin moves smoothly through its meta-play existence with Director Diane M. Smith at the helm. Smith works diligently to keep things sailing along, despite Schwartz and librettist Roger O. Hirson’s best efforts to drag the first act out into eternity. Smith is smart with her casting as well, putting the right personalities into roles that are well suited for them. Catherine (Kerry Jungwirth) and Theo (Sammy Jungwirth) are two such examples, along with Fastrada (Hannah Elliott.) All three of these vivacious performers live up to the roles they play, with Sammy Jungwirth putting just enough bratty attitude into the young role of Theo when the moment calls for it to be cute and pleasing. Kerry Jungwirth plays the character with a slightly, albeit sweetly, aloof disposition, though “I Guess I’ll Miss the Man”, despite its lyrical dissonance, is truly tender and almost heartbreaking. Hannah Elliott, as Fastrada, though having just one musical number to prove her worth, does so in spades with all the panache she packs into “Spread a Little Sunshine.” Practically bursting with a radiant energy enough to give fellow players a sunburn, Elliott takes her moment to blaze in the spotlight with this number.
Shiny in an entirely different fashion, the effervescent Lewis (Noah Broth) leaps and flounces about in a foppish fashion that’s too funny for words. Adding to Fastrada’s “Spread a Little Sunshine” with his ridiculous dancing, Broth serves as a proper irritant to Pippin, and makes his presence felt and known, even if he’s not seen favorably by Charles (Brian Singer.) With a clear voice, Brian Singer presents Charles plainly, making him a somewhat mild tyrant, though a relatively palatable one with good pitch control, as exhibited during “Welcome Home” both parts one and two. “War is a Science” is his showoff number, pattering with rhythmic skill and being forced to put poor Pippin into his place whenever the lad wrongfully bursts out into a roaring chorus.
With a deceptive smile, Nicole Smith takes up the role of Lead Player, putting that edgy spark into the narrative element of the show. What the character itself lacks in depth she more than readily makes up for with her enthusiastic and visceral performance, biting and snapping in unexpected places, catching Pippin, members of the players, and the audience completely off-guard in a rewarding, if unsuspecting, fashion. Strong of voice, fully engaged with her physicality, and readily loaded with a cheeky personality, Smith does a fine job of telling the story, really powering through “Magic to Do”, “Glory”, and “Simple Joys.” Her voice never wavers and has a great ability to sustain those longer, drawn out notes.
Running away with the show, Nancy Tarr Hart has the audience eating out of her hand when she arrives as Berthe for her big number, “No Time At All.” Owning the audience as if the show were entitled Berthe, Hart packs a walloping punch of pizzazz and jazz, really belting out her bits during the number. With enough punch and pluck to drum up an audio-visual feast for everyone in the house, Hart does a number on the number and makes it the most memorable moment of the show.
With his spirit running free, Samuel Boelens finds his own little talented corner of the sky playing the titular role of Pippin. With a voice as smooth as a vast glassy lake, clear as a crystal morning, and powerful as the blazing sun, Boelens melts into “Corner of the Sky”, swaying the hearts of the audience along with his tune. Versatile, expressive, and deeply invested in making Pippin experience the extraordinary, there is no doubt that Boelens lives up to that descriptor, being truly extraordinary in the role. His acapella lead-in for the penultimate moment of the show is stunning. Boelens is an exemplary Pippin and indeed is the morning glow of a star on the rise.
So, it’s time to start living, time to take the time to see the show they’re giving, time to get tickets— to go see Pippin— there are only two performances left!
Running Time: 2 hours and 25 minutes with one intermission
Pippin plays through August 23, 2017 at The Beth Tfiloh Community Theatre in the Mintzes Theatre of the Rosen Arts Center on the Beth Tfiloh Congregation and Community School Campus— 3300 Old Court Road in Pikesville, MD. Tickets are available for purchase at the door.