‘Pippin’ at the Arvada Center stuck in the past | VailDaily.com

‘Pippin’ at the Arvada Center stuck in the past

Alex Miller
Special to the Daily The Leading Player, Milton Craig Nealy, and an ensemble dancer in the Arvada Center production of "Pippin."

It seemed like they did everything right. The Arvada Center, which is gaining a reputation for putting up high-quality, large-scale productions, recently opened the musical “Pippin” with a strong cast, good direction and everything else seemingly in place.Even so, I had to keep from looking at my watch. The last time I saw this show was as a kid, when it was in its first run on Broadway in the 1970s. Ben Vereen, whose career was launched with the Leading Player role, was the star, and my recollection of the show was that it was a standard, big-time musical with all the requisite parts.

Arvada’s production is perfectly capable, and the Leading Player is handled with gusto by the huge-voiced Milton Craig Nealy (who stole the show in the Arvada Center’s production of “The Full Monty”). Pippin is played by capably whiny D.B. Bonds, and Jeffrey Atherton does a nice, imperial turn as Pippin’s dad, Charlemagne. Other fun turns came from Mercedes Perez as Lewis’s scheming mother, and Bev Newcomb-Madden, as Pippin’s cute and saucy grandmother.Still, I left the theatre trying to reconcile in my mind what happened, and unable to recall a single song.

Ostensibly, “Pippin” is the story of a young prince whose father just happens to be the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne. He may see the value in his effete son, but with war at hand, he’s more interested in his other son, Pippin’s half-brother Lewis (Laurence Anthony Curry). “He’s the perfect soldier,” father tells Pippin … “strong and stupid.”Pippin wanders from school to the battlefield to exile and ends up in the bed of the widow Catherine (Christine Patterson). Along the way, he has a Cesar Chavez moment which finds him taking the side of the poor against his father. Pippin does a lot of extroverted soul-searching, most of which comes across as vaguely annoying. Lots of fairly well choreographed dancing occurs as the Leading Player tries his best to move things along.

Somehow, though, the production seemed sluggish, as if stuck in quicksand. This could well improve as the run continues, but opening night was rickety at best. Despite director Rod Lansberry’s attempt to update Stephen Schwartz’s 1972 play, “Pippin” feels dated. And it may be that no amount of pyrotechnics, slinky dancers and modern costumes can remedy that.

Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14625, or amiller@vaildaily.com.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado

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