Oh, the places I’ve travelled to after entering the Charing Cross Theatre: 1950s Paris with the musical Amour; New York during the turn of the twentieth century with the musical Ragtime; and closer to home, London’s West End on Old Compton Street with the musical Soho Cinders.
Now with the venue’s latest revival production of Pippin, audiences are invited to a place without a distinct time nor location. It is akin to an intimate hippy commune; the walls are lined with sixties inspired tie dye tapestries, fairy lights are draped across the centre space and a colourful flower is painted on the floor.
In what can be best described as an adult fable, the musical follows Pippin and his journey to find a fulfilling purpose in his life. In a hopeful anthem for wondering souls, Pippin sings about how he yearns to find his ‘Corner of the Sky’. Ryan Anderson as Pippin bursts with naïve optimism and we are lulled into believing that grand opportunities lie in store for him. Guided by the magnetic Ian Carlyle as the Leading Player, we follow Pippin as he tries and fails to find fulfilment in a range of contrasting pursuits. As the musical starts to draw to a close, the musical reveals a darker and much more sinister edge.
The musical’s simple storytelling format combined with its meta-theatrical finale is compelling and a marked departure from many other musicals which have come in the following years. Too often, shows seek to shoehorn in messages or a wider commentary on society with mixed success. But here, it’s up to the audience to reflect on the show’s wider meaning. We’re led to question whether an extraordinary life is worth pursuing and the role of society and other external influences in shaping our views on this.
It’s easy to see why the musical which first debuted in 1972 has since received a Broadway revival and is a favourite among university and amateur theatre groups. The material is adaptable and leaves scope for directors to make it their own. Director Steven Dexter’s interpretation here is minimalist and playful: the king, Pippin’s father, wears a tambourine crown; the costumes appear as if they’ve been found at a charity shop; and in one of the crowd-pleasing numbers led by the charismatic Genevieve Nicole as Berthe, the lyrics to the chorus are sprawled on a large white bed sheet so that the audience can sing along.
What makes this production stand-out is its exciting and dynamic choreography and the cast’s ability to produce a rousing wall of sound in its ensemble numbers, despite only being accompanied by a keyboard and guitar. The score composed by Stephen Schwartz of Wicked fame, includes soft and introspective ballads such as ‘Morning Glow’ and ‘With You’ but also many fun and upbeat ones such as ‘No Time At All’. For audiences who have felt long deprived of the joy of live musical theatre as a result of the pandemic, it is a fantastic show to welcome us back in with.
Photo Credit: Edward Johnson
Pippin is running at the Charing Cross Theatre until 14 August 2021 at the time of writing.