This post may contain affiliate links. That means if you click and buy, I may receive a small commission (at zero cost to you). Please see my full disclosure policy for details.
Stephen Schwartz’ PIPPIN is making its long awaited return to The Conejo Players‘ stage after a 19 year absence. For those who don’t know the story, Stephen Schwartz (Music and Lyrics) and Roger O. Hirson (Book) create a dark allegory of finding one’s own sense of worth and value.
The Story (spoilers included):
Pippin (Jake Marone) a recent college graduate seeks an extraordinary life. Wanting his own “corner of the sky”, Pippin expects that the world owes him happiness but without any solid role models, Pippin is left to flounder. He chooses to accept the help of a mysterious troupe of players led by Lauren Rachel‘s Leading Player who guide him into ultimately failing at all attempts to find fulfillment whether as a soldier, politician, lover and one who leads a carefree life so that he would agree to the climatic finale (suicide).
The first act is dark, even more so thanks to inspiration taken from the recent Broadway Revival, and often uncomfortable to watch as you helplessly play witness to Pippin making mistake after mistake. The only reason to stay for the second act is the knowledge that things will get much better when Pippin meets fellow player, Catherine (Janelle Phaneuf), and her son, Theo (Leo Helfritch).
It is thanks to his year with Catherine’s “Kind of Woman” that Pippin realizes he does not need an “extraordinary” life but that sometimes the ordinary and everyday life is enough.
Whether you see the players as an allegory of Satan, the dark side of human nature, or mental illness, you have to agree that the musical PIPPIN is a dark parable with a timeless message that makes it a perfect show for high school students. Unfortunately Director Shawn W. Adams-Lanz‘ production at Conejo Players is extremely dark and overly-sexualized making this a questionable production to recommend.
Conejo Players suggests a rating of PG-13 due to sexual situations. I would go one step further and say parents should be cautious before sending even their high school students in to see this show. You might say that the kids see just as many scantily dressed women and men in Taylor Swift music videos. And that might be true but that does not mean it is appropriate.
Even as a woman in my 30s I felt uncomfortable because one of the players’ thong was constantly in my face when she was dancing (despite wearing a deceptively modest tutu) and an over the top cod-piece that made A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder joke pale in contrast to the excessiveness and crassness of the jokes used in PIPPIN. Women and men alike are dressed in amped-up sexualized costumes (e.g. BDSM attire and lingerie). Also, you should know that Fastrada (Dani Orjala-Reyes) not only dresses sexily but also does a strip tease down to her undies. It can also be disturbing to see the young actor flip a birdie and swear. Also, those who are sensitive might easily take offense to the numerous jokes at the expensive of religion and military and government.
What Makes This PIPPIN Worth Seeing?
Similar to the dark first act, my warnings were pretty depressing too. However, just like how Catherine brings hope to the show so there are several reasons worth seeing this well choreographed production.
First, kudos to Janelle Phaneuf (who previously directed Conejo Players’ Godspell) who brought light to PIPPIN with her enthusiasm and joy. Songs such as “Kind of Woman” and “I Guess I’ll Miss The Man” were both vocally pleasing and highlights of the evening. Similarly her scenes opposite Lauren Rachel were some of the funniest of the night and the comedy was spot-on.
Secondly, it was a delight to see the great choreography by Arryck Adams-Lanz who played homage to Fosse and incorporated circus elements and aerials from the recent Broadway revival. He especially honed in on the talents of Ezra Eells (Lewis/Player) as well as Lily Donnelly (Player/Manson Trio Dancer/Catherine’s Women) whom I could not take my eyes off of.
Finally, Lauren Rachel and the players did an exceptional job sending chills through my veins during the climatic finale. Director Shawn Adams-Lanz brilliantly choreographed the final scene so there is no question what the moral of the story is and much like in Maury Yeston’s NINE the audience walks away in stunned silence and deep thought.
Where: Conejo Players Theatre, 351 South Moorpark Road, Thousand Oaks, CA
When: Now – 1 December 2019
Pippin: Jake Marone
Leading Player: Lauren Rachel (2019 Nominee for Actress in a Play, “Peter and the Starcatcher”)
Charles: Scott Quintard
Fastrada: Dani Orjala-Reyes
Catherine: Janelle Phaneuf (2019 Nominee for Actress in a Musical, “Pippin”)
Berthe: Aileen Scott
Theo: Leo Helfritch
Lewis: Ezra Eells (2019 Nominee for Actor in a Play, “Peter and the Starcatcher”)
Manson Trio Dancers: Abel J. Alderete, Lily Donnelly
Players: Scott Donohue, Abel J. Alderete, Sam Machado, Ezra Eells, Lily Donnelly, Jacqueline Patrice, Rita Nobile, Brittany Herring, Melina Ortega, Ryan Bodily
Disclaimer: My tickets were comped but all opinions are my own.