High wire act

The cast of TMCC’s Pippin brings on the razzle dazzle in full force.

The cast of TMCC’s Pippin brings on the razzle dazzle in full force.


TMCC Performing Arts Presents Pippin at the TMCC Nell J. Redfield Performing Arts Center, 505 Keystone Ave., April 20-22 and 26-29. Tickets are $10-17. Call 775-789-5672 or visit www.showtix4u.com.
Rated 4.0

Pippin is puzzling. It’s a musical centered on the historical figure of Prince Pippin, son of King Charlemagne, yet the show contains nothing historically accurate. Its events are set in the Middle Ages, yet they are set against a backdrop of 20th-century circus acts and so-so 1970s music.

But despite its constant incongruence, it’s one of the longest-running, most popular and most Tony-Award-winning Broadway musicals of all time. Puzzling indeed.

None of the show’s strangeness is any reflection on the TMCC Performing Arts production currently playing at the Redfield Theater in Reno. Though it may be a bit rough around the edges, the razzle dazzle inherent in the production—from gorgeous costuming and circus-inspired set design to astonishing acrobatics and impressive choreography—makes for a fun evening.

So, about that premise. Prince Pippin (played by Jesse Green) has finished his schooling, and the imperious King Charles (Phil Harriman), who at present has his hands full leading his armed forces against the Visigoths, wants to know his first-born’s plans. Nipping at his heir-to-the-throne brother’s heels is Lewis (Wesley Adam Walmsley), the son of Charles and Pippin’s wily seductress of a stepmother, Fastrada (Hayley Lightfoot). Proud and confident Lewis, unlike his older brother, is the very model of a prince and military leader, while Pippin seems weak, insecure and wishy-washy. Realizing this, Pippin knows he is destined for something great but has no idea what that might be, so he sets out to find his “corner of the sky.”

All the while, a troupe of traveling performers, under the ringmaster-like direction of the Lead Player (Quinn Jamal Jackson) appear to be putting on a play-within-a-play about Pippin’s journey—literally jumping through hoops as Pippin does so figuratively, attempting a stint in his father’s army, a period of lustful hedonism and even a brief, failed endeavor to be king. All the while, the antics of acrobats and dancers all around the forlorn prince make light of his failures and egg him on to follow his heart.

The story is thin and undoubtedly clunky, and the cast struggles at times with the already awkward songs. Yet the cabaret-style acts sizzle, thanks to jaw-dropping feats of strength and agility, as well as choreography inspired by the great Bob Fosse. Jackson’s performance clearly channels the great Ben Vereen, the OG Lead Player. Jackson commands the stage as a magnetic, energetic force with just a touch of dark mystery. I am in awe of the talented, artistic performers of the daring silk work, trapeze and pole acts, but the program lists them among “ensemble” performers so I am unfortunately unable to praise them by name. Nonetheless, their work is mesmerizing.

While the male leads’ performances—those of the unlovable, hapless Pippin and the inelegant King Charles—frequently falter, the females’ performances are strong across the board. In particular, Natalie Gonzalez is endearing as Catherine, Pippin’s second-act love interest, and Nancy Ryman’s brief turn as Berthe, Pippin’s saucy grandmother, may be the best five minutes of the show.

Though the petulant prince may be clownish and his story a real bear, the circus he’s bringing to town is worth the price of admission.