I guarantee that Tom Whiston and Stella Green’s radical re-adaptation of Steven Schwartz’s Pippin (running until Saturday at Bedlam Theatre) is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. As soon as you walk into Bedlam, you know you’re in for something unique. The theatre has been transformed -- all but a few rows of seats have been removed, as well as the stage itself, and instead a large square platform stands in the middle of the space, with seats and benches on three sides. The music has been rewritten to give a rock-n-roll edge, and a live band brings it to life; the ensemble wears workman’s coveralls and docs; Pippin, which originally has a sort-of-bizarre circus theme, has been remade into something undeniably slick and cool.
(In order to provide a hopefully-humorous point of comparison, I’ve included alongside the rundown of the recent Bedlam production of Pippin some info about my high school production of the same show -- 2014/15, age 15, ensemble member no. 6, for reference. Photos included below.)
The tech, staging, and choreography were exceptionally well-done, including hands-down the best orgy scene I’ve seen in my life. The ensemble, a well-timed unit, made it all look easy, and made the supporting characters their own too. The ribbon-infused battle scene was a personal favorite, and their shell-shocked faces walking off stage added a great political grit.
(My high school production watered down the sex scene to a couple of girls in ballet outfits doing their best seductive-but-remember-you’re-a-still-a-literal-child looks. My friend Lauren was unfortunately chosen and was scared shitless.The battle scene involved large plastic armor and fake swords. I remember that they were really loud and heavy, and we had to come up with the choreography ourselves.)
Hannah Robinson and Rob Merriam are the essential duo: Leading Player and Pippin. Hannah was the epitome of confidence and control, holding the whole show together and looking badass while she was at it. Rob was perfectly awkward and endearing; you rooted for him, you laughed at him, and you related to his search for purpose.
(I was madly in love with the Pippin of my high school days. During one scene, I was meant to kiss his hand, and the theatre teacher was forced to cut it because - apparently - it was too awkward to bear. Also for context: I was dressed as a monk.)
It’s a lot of fun to see an old show made new. Despite my reservations, mostly because of some buried high-school-theatre-kid trauma, Pippin was genuinely funny and fresh. The two hours flew by, thanks an excellent cast and crew. Themes which are usually lost amongst the kitsch, like the practical difficulties of revolution, the disillusionment of youth, and the pressure to be extraordinary, shone through.
(Photo from author's show, of course.)