Review: Pippin

by Cate Blouke

Special to the American-Statesman

Perhaps because it’s a journey most of us can relate to, theater loves to tell the story of an individual’s search for happiness and fulfillment. And with a bit of music, dancing, and pizzazz, that story stays fresh even decades after it first hit stages.

As part of its three-show repertoire this season, Summer Stock Austin brings us “Pippin,” playing at the Rollins Studio Theater at the Long Center now through Aug 10.

A classic coming-of-age tale told through the lens of a mysterious circus act, “Pippin” follows the title character (the eldest son of Charlemagne) as he seeks a higher purpose in life.

Framed by the interjections of a narrative ring-leader (Vincent Hooper) and a vast ensemble of cryptic players, the show is simultaneously playful and sinister. Starring the charismatic and endearing Gray Randolph in the title role, “Pippin” tracks the hapless and idealistic youth as he bumbles through adolescence, war, revolution, and ultimately the comforts of a simple existence.

As the sanguinary patriarch (Charlemagne, or Charles for short), Alec Cudmore is charmingly both awkward and domineering. And Vincent Hooper captivates and delights as the bewitching Leading Player.

If not always crisp in the execution, Ellie Blackwood’s costumes are an aesthetic pleasure, with a nice cohesion of palate and flares of panache. Jason Amato’s lighting also keeps the show lively and active, with a nice array of textures and tones in the scenes.

Now in its ninth year of operation, Summer Stock Austin offers high school and college students the opportunity to work through all aspects of the theatrical production alongside faculty and professional producers. Unique among other national summer stock productions, Austin’s program doesn’t ask tuition of its participants, instead inviting them based on talent and character.

As such, the organization relies on ticket sales, donations, and various pre-show auction items or photo sales (for a price, you can ask the cast to re-stage any scene from the play and insert yourself and your family).  This summer, the three shows are “Pippin,” “Swing,” and the “Bremen Town Musicians.”

Basing this “Pippin” on the original choreography of Bob Fosse, Ginger Morris has these students showcasing their talents in a variety of delightful (and occasionally bawdy) numbers. And while the show features a range of talents, it’s a very strong ensemble, overall, with a few standout performances. Madison Piner repeatedly draws attention, and we can’t help but love Matthew Moore for both his acrobatics and body glitter.