Pippin - 50th Anniversary Concert

Rating: ★★★★★
Venue: Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London
Cast: Alex Newell, Jac Yarrow, Patricia Hodge, Lucie Jones, Cedric Neal, Zizi Strallen and the London Musical Theatre Orchestra

Heir to the Frankish throne, the young prince Pippin is in search of the secret to true happiness and fulfilment. He seeks it in the glories of the battlefield, the temptations of the flesh and the intrigues of political power (after disposing of his father, King Charlemagne the Great). In the end, though, Pippin finds that happiness lies not in extraordinary endeavours, but rather in the unextraordinary moments that happen every day.

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of this ground-breaking show written by Roger O. Hirson, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane is playing host to a star-studded cast for 2 nights only and it truly is magic!

It has become a recent trend in the West End to put on a concert version of beloved musicals, and some work better than others in this format. Pippin most definitely works in this way; it lies somewhere between a stripped back concert performance and a full-blown production. There are wonderful costumes from Polly Sullivan, impeccable lighting design by Jamie Platt and outstanding choreography inspired by the original director, Bob Fosse, from Joanna Goodwin. All of this plus the talent on stage makes for a very special evening.

The story being told by a troupe of travelling players, following the direction of the Leading Player, (Alex Newell) is of Pippin (Jac Yarrow), a young naïve prince who is heir to the throne and spends his time upon returning from university searching for his purpose in life. He wants something that fulfils him and no matter how hard he tries he cannot find that one thing that makes him feel satisfied and he discovers that happiness isn’t as easy to obtain as he’d first hoped.

I could not quite believe the cast list for this show when it was announced. To have that many talented people on one stage seemed like a dream - and tonight that dream really did come true. Alex Newell is incredible as the Leading Player. Alex is fresh from their star turn on Broadway in Shucked, and it is not hard to see why they have so quickly shot to fame and become one to watch in the world of musical theatre. Alex has an outstanding vocal talent, unmatched by many, and yet they perform with masterful control and intensity. 

Jac Yarrow takes on the role of Pippin with ease and grace, bringing to life the naïve character with a boyish charm, but when things get tough there is a grit and rawness to Jac’s performance that makes you sit up and pay attention. The role of Fastrada, the sexy, money hungry step-mother to Pippin is played exceptionally by Zizi Strallen. She has a wonderful comedic tone whilst taking the audience's breath away with impressive dance skills during her performance of ‘Spread a Little Sunshine’.

The four unnamed ‘Players’ create a small dance troupe made up of Jak Allen-Anderson, Sally Firth, Amonik Melaco and Gleanne Purcell-Brown, who perfectly execute the intricate routines by Joanna Goodwin. It was lovely to see that the Bob Fosse signature style had been incorporated along with some more modern sequences.

Lucie Jones is wonderful as Catherine, a love interest who changes everything for Pippin and helps him realise that maybe fulfilment comes in the simplest forms. She showcases her impressive acting and vocal talents, especially standing out with her solo ‘I Guess I’ll Miss The Man’. It was also a delight to see Patricia Hodge included in the already glittering cast list. She brings a delightful warmth to the role of Pippin’s grandmother, Berthe. Patricia shines every moment she is on stage, relishing in her role and including the audience in a small sing-along to ‘No Time At All’, which is a wonderfully warm heartfelt song from a grandmother to her grandson.

It would be amiss not to mention the incredibly talented London Musical Theatre Orchestra, who along with the ArtsEd Choir beautifully underscore the main cast. The rousing sounds created bring goosebumps as they follow the direction of Chris Ma.

However, there is one constant with the recent run of concert performances – sound issues. And sadly, Pippin is no different. Unfortunately, several lines were missed either in part or entirely, which meant at times we could not understand what was happening. It is such a shame as without these issues this would have been a faultless production.

There are not enough words to express how much I enjoyed this production; it was near perfection, and I would love to see it be given the full run it deserves (with this exact cast!) to be able to fully utilise its potential. There is only one more night to catch this performance and I highly recommend you do! It really is something special, and after all...There’s Magic to Do...

You can find out more about the 50th anniversary concert of Pippin, here.

Review by Rosie

**photo credit: Pamela Raith**

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