Keeper of the Plans

Review: MTW’s ‘Pippin’ a surprising contender for best show of the summer

Scenes from MTW’s ‘Pippin’

Footage from dress rehearsal night at Music Theatre Wichita's production of "Pippin," directed and choreographed by Al Blackstone.
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Footage from dress rehearsal night at Music Theatre Wichita's production of "Pippin," directed and choreographed by Al Blackstone.

A wise man once said “Pippin” ain’t easy.

Indeed, mounting a quality production of the 1970s musical can be a daunting task.

Luckily for local theatergoers, Music Theatre Wichita has assembled a stellar show that may just be the best of its season (pending its finale, “The Little Mermaid”).

MTW’s production is a bit of a hybrid between the original 1972 version and the Tony Award-winning 2013 revival, which breathed fresh life into the score and introduced a circus motif.

In the 2013 version, professional acrobats were brought in to supplement the lively new take on the show.

While there are no professional acrobats in MTW’s show, there are certainly impressive circus tricks and stunts. Various illusions throughout the show, such as bodies disappearing under sheets, severed heads talking and isolated legs walking across stage, kept audience members on their toes, looking for a trap door on stage.

The show revolves around Pippin, the fictional son of King Charlemagne, who tries to find purpose in life through different pursuits.

Skyler Adams, who plays Pippin, is a natural fit for the part.

Take it from a guy who once played the part of Pippin in a college production — my hat’s off to Adams, whose vocal cords are equally as impressive as his acting chops.

But it was Karen Robu who essentially stole the show with her brief Act I appearance as Berthe, Pippin’s grandmother.

During her number, “No Time At All,” Robu took to an aerial rotating trapeze with a fellow actor and displayed impressive ability to hang from it and continue performing.

She received extended applause and cheers after the song. Rightfully so.

The show was directed by Al Blackstone, who’s known moreso as a choreographer.

Entrusting directorial duties to an intensely dance-minded person lends this show a unique dynamic. I couldn’t help but notice the actors and actresses are moving semiconstantly, and large portions of the story are told through dance.

Of those dancers, Kim Faure (here playing the scheming stepmother, Fastrada) shines brightest.

Faure had the most engaging and entertaining facial expressions I’ve ever seen from a MTW dancer. She was clearly in complete control of the moment at all times. Bravo.

The ringmaster of the show is the Leading Player, here played by Debra M. Walton.

Walton said last week she had auditioned for that role on Broadway many times. If you watch MTW’s “Pippin,” it’s clear she belongs as a Leading Player. She is sassy, confidently executing Blackstone’s fun choreography throughout.

The ending of “Pippin” is brilliant. I won’t spoil it for those who have yet to see the show, but it’s one unlikely to be matched in any other production at Century II.

Maybe it is true that “Pippin” ain’t easy.

But MTW sure makes it look that way.

The musical was exceptionally cast and directed, one that will make you stand up at curtain call just as Wednesday’s audience did.

The standing O was well-deserved.

“PIPPIN”

When: 7:30 p.m. Thurs., 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 2 p.m. Sat.-Sun., 7 p.m. Sun.

Where: Concert Hall, Century II, 225 W. Douglas

Tickets: $34-$69 for evening performances, $32-$66 for matinees, from the Century II box office, by phone at 316-265-3107 or online at www.mtwichita.org. Student-rush tickets available for half-price on a first-come first-serve basis at the box office two hours prior to every showtime.

More information: Show is rated PG-13 for sexual sequences and language. Running time is 2 hours and 40 minutes.

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