by Terrance Mc Arthur
There is “Magic to Do” at the Selma Arts Center, where the most-unusual musical Pippin is playing through October 22.
It’s a tale of Pippin (Jonathan Padilla), son of Charlemagne (Chris Ortiz-Belcher), led through the Middle Ages by a troupe of performers headed by the enigmatic Leading Player (Leif Bramer). Searching for ways to do “extraordinary things,” the prince tries military exploits, sensual delights, political power, and pastoral domesticity with a young widow (Kindle Cowger), with uneven results . . . but he keeps trying. Reaching out from its 1972 Broadway origins, the songs by Stephen (Godspell, Wicked) still ring strongly in the heart and soul, carrying the script by Roger O. Hirson. Echoes of Bob Fosse’s famed choreography for the show run through this production, especially in what is called “The Manson Trio,” a precise dance number set against “battles barbarous and bloody.”
Padilla is limber (Heck! The whole cast bounces around like a manic Cirque du Soleil) and athletic, powering songs like “Corner of the Sky” and “Extraordinary.” He keeps Pippin’s optimism afloat amid a sea of disappointments. After stints in GCP’s The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and the title role in SAC’s The SpongeBob Musical, he still has energy to spare, and a Trevor Noah twinkle in his eye.
Bramer combines Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider, Marlene Dietrich and the Master of Ceremonies from Cabaret, into an unsettling whole as the Leading Player. They cajole, dupe, and drag Pippin from disaster to failure to calamity with a leering smirk and some stiletto heels that threaten to cause ankle failure at any moment.
Cowger’s soaring tones enliven “Kind of Woman” with a whimsical confidence and “I Guess I’ll Miss the Man” with wistfulness. The former Miss Fresno County adds a sweetness to the show’s acidic tone, and what a voice!
Ortiz-Belcher has a jolly time as Charles the Great (aka Charlemagne), ignoring his son, planning war, and being twisted around the little finger of his second wife, Fastrada (Jacob Moon). Moon is oddly seductive, and Fastrada spends life planning to get Lewis (James Anderson), her brainless but militaristic son, positioned to become king. Anderson poses athletically.
Jenna Valencia, as Pippin’s exiled grandmother, heaves an earthy sense of fun into “No Time at All,” a snappy little ditty about the joys and pains of old age, a part originated by Irene Ryan (Granny of The Beverly Hillbillies). Middle-schooler Alessia Ambriz is perky, playing Theo, the widow’s son.
There are situations and themes that take Pippin out of the children’s theatre range, but it is a challenging production, with the dynamics between Padilla and Bramer being good fodder for post-performance discussion. Summer Session’s direction, Miz-Unique Slater’s choreography, and Lauren Heard’s costume, makeup, and hair/wig designs honor the legacy of earlier productions with dizzying new spins, and the choral effect is intense. The songs will stick with you, and you’ll be better for it.
Performances of Pippin are at the Selma Arts Center, 1935 High Street, Selma, CA. Tickets are available by calling 559-891-2238, or by visiting selmaartscenter.com/tickets or at the Selma Arts Center box office. Box office hours are Tuesday-Wednesday 1 p.m.-5 p.m. A processing fee will apply when purchasing online and at the Box Office.
If you love local theatre, be sure to check out Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors. You can find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, and also on podbean.