Music &Lyrics: Stephen Schwartz
Book: Roger O. Hirson
Director: John King
Reviewer: Lauren Humphreys
The tale of a fictitious medieval prince and his search for the meaning of life is unlikely source material for a musical. A favourite of US amateur and school theatre groups, Stephen Schwartz and Roger O. Hirson’s Pippin had its last professional outing in the UK in 1973 and on Broadway in 2014, where it’s big-top staging was highly lauded by both audience and critic alike.
Often overlooked for its 70s pop/rock score and lacklustre book, the music has the same hippy-dippy, student production origins as Schwartz’s earlier work, Godspell. Here, in the hands of Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society, it returns firmly to its roots. No big top, no acrobatics, with just three lidded, wooden boxes and a few drapes, this hugely talented ensemble manage to deliver a cohesive and entirely absorbing production of this seldom-seen work.
The direction at the hands of John King is tight and fluid, transitions are smoothly achieved and there are some nice touches peppered throughout to enliven the staging: shadow puppetry, inventive movement sequences and pseudo-Edwardian costumes that are easy on the eye.
Central to the production’s success is its cast. Universally fine-voiced, it seems churlish to single any out; however, mention must be made of Megan Henson (Charlemagne) who is stunningly gifted as both actress and singer and Oli MacFarlane whose Pippin is beautifully judged. Strong support comes too fromCaroline Sautter (a brunette Kerry Ellis look-alike) as the charismatic narrator.
Given a bigger budget and a professional venue, this would give many touring musicals a run for their money. A triumph of strong direction, clear artistic vision and a stand-out cast has produced one of the must-see shows of the Fringe.
Runs until August 31, 2015
Image: Johannes Hjorth