Iowa City Community Theatre Presents: Pippin
Johnson County Fairgrounds — through Sept. 29, tickets $11-19
Entering the Iowa City Community Theater barn and the Johnson County Fairgrounds, I could already feel a sizzle. The lobby was transformed with curios and artifacts beckoning the audience into the world of Pippin. Glitter seemed to hover in the air as the tinkling of a lute followed the orchestra’s warm up notes. Actors undulated Fosse-esque movements as a warm, inviting melody rose and the all-ages, gender-non-conforming, inclusive cast began the show. I was already struck by the grand vocals filling the space. “Join us! We’ve got magic to do!” they pleaded — and I was ready to rally!
The success of Pippin (music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, book by Roger O. Hirson), the first show of ICCT’s 64th season, is greatly due to director Josh Sazon and choreographer Taylor Gomez. They, with musical director Wes Habley, guide us through Pippin’s “Everyman” journey through life, searching for happiness and something more: purpose. Sazon’s direction keeps us engaged throughout the show, his tone palpable in the moments where the actors’ drop the 4th wall — when they “let us in on the joke,” asking for “more lights, please, “ or telling us, “It’s her first time playing the role.”
There are a slew of newcomers to the ICCT stage in this production, and I’m so excited to see them in more shows to come. Anthony J Hendricks, Sr, as Leading Player, is a revelation onstage. His vocal chops are top notch, taking us on a ride through runs that go on for days, moving masterfully — as if he was made for the role. He is a star.
Will Adams’ Pippin is believable, and likable from the start. Honest and with a beautiful voice and delivery, Asmus as Pippin makes you want to live life to the fullest.
This performance also brought back some returning faces, featuring familiar actors in a new way. Playing the jealous, sword-wielding brother Lewis, Ashley Lapointe shows they can handle a leading role. Bringing the fast “patter-song,” Barry A. Schreier effortlessly spat the words to “War is a Science,” a song that gives a tongue-in-cheek farce of wartime antics. His Charlemagne was fun, nimble and powerful, a would-be villain of the story that you love to see.
The two main women in Pippin’s early years are his bawdy, brazen step-mother Fastrada, played by the hilarious Alaynna Von Schwartzenheisen, and his raunchy, sexy grandmother Berthe (Becky Machtel). Both performances soar with comic-relief.
The second act shone, with Emma Gostonczik as the beautiful Catherine and 11-year old Nicolas Hanson’s Theo. Nicolas’s portrayal broke my heart with his sweetness one minute and had me in tears laughing at his witty comebacks. This kid is one to watch. Gostonzick won over Pippin’s heart and ours with her silly charm, singing “Ordinary Woman” and “Love Song” in a soft tone that warmly held the listeners’ ear.
The lovely ensemble players — Melanie Hance, Carlye Hileman, Teya Kerns, Beau Leavenworth, Noelle McVey, Robert Morris, Jocko Motyko, Sam Nester, Joseph Eugene Rohret, Em Staff and Sasha Tyler — slink through sensual choreography and expert harmonies, with acrobatic yoga moves and swampy, whip-cracking glee.
ICCT’s Pippin is sexy and sweet, bringing life to the sequins in Donna Bummer’s glam costumes. This performance isn’t all just playing around though: The end reminds us of the sobering, stark world we live in, and how the grand must fall sometimes to truly find peace.
This production will make you want to run away with the troupe, jump into life without a safety net, search for your true purpose — and have a bunch of fun along the way.