Magic for You: “Pippin” at Highfield Theater

Bret Poulter as the Leading Player dances with Jessie Edgar, left, and Maddie Edgar in a battle scene from “Pippin.”

The Falmouth Theatre Guild has an abundance of “Magic to do, just for you” in its current production of “Pippin,” which opened Friday and runs through May 13 at Highfield Theater in Falmouth. It is exactly the sort of production this family-oriented theater company does best: a big, multi-generational spectacular using the many and varied talents of the local community.

The audience was excited too on opening night, this past Friday, happily exchanging greetings, catching up on the news, and buzzing about the show.

Director Brian Switzer has assembled and leads a truly talented cast of colorful characters in this unconventional story of a young man looking for meaning in his life. Pippin, the educated son of Charlemagne, has just returned home from school when the story begins. He yearns to live an extraordinary life, “something completely fulfilling,” but is not quite sure what that entails.

The play, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, is wonderfully written, with clever commentary on war, love, and family life, all within a surreal context. The story is told as a play-within-a-play, as the Leading Player sets the scene and directs the action, but the actors become their characters, sometimes changing the prescribed script.

“Pippin” is beautifully realized by the FTG. The sets are innovative, using a combination of rear projection screens (I loved the castle towers), large blocks, and colorful props and costumes. The choreography, by Ann Edgar, is creative, especially the several scenes in which the actors “dance” while seated in a long row across the stage. The music, directed by Nancy Wendlandt, is vibrant, with solo sax (Burke McElvey) and alto flute (Denise Dias) adding much to the mood along the way.

Bret Poulter is magnificent as the Leading Player, emerging from a sea of glowing hands on the darkened stage. A confident actor, vibrant singer, and strong dancer, he effortlessly draws the audience into the story from the opening number, “Magic To Do,” in which he and the chorus promise humor, romance, illusion, and battles. His character is multifaceted, by turns charming, moody, dictatorial, and malevolent, and Poulter has a vivid presence.

I would have wanted Danny Price to play Pippin with a little more dramatic flair, and to belt out his main song, “Corner of the Sky,” the one for which the musical is most known, with a little more power, but Price does portray Pippin’s angst and bewilderment well.

Martha Paquin is terrific as Catherine, Pippin’s love interest. Drawn to him by the arch of his foot as he lies dejected in the forest, she takes him in and stands by him, offering up some great love songs in the process. Particularly enchanting is “I Guess I’ll Miss the Man.”

Peter Cook is Pippin’s father, the famed Charlemagne, king of the Holy Roman Empire. Decked out in a splendidly ornate king’s garb, complete with ermine-edged cloak, he is a good-natured despot, but is uncomfortable dealing with Pippin and struggles against his family almost as much as against his non-Christian enemies, the Visigoths. He has some very funny lines and delivers them well.

Meg Morris is a standout his queen Fastrada (Pippin’s step-mother). She and her tall-standing son Lewis (Pippin’s step-brother) are over the top, in the funniest possible way, as they plot to gain the crown for the dim-witted Lewis.

Exiled in the forest by Fastrada is Charlemagne’s mother, Berthe, played with warmth and good humor by Davien Gould. Her advice to Pippin, “No Time at All” is a delight, especially when she directs the audience when to sing along—and when not to.

Last, but certainly not least, is Abe Lineaweaver, a fourth-grader, who plays Catherine’s son Theo. His pouting, defiance of Pippin is fun, and his singing is just perfect.

Supporting the main characters is a chorus of 17, each one a talented actor, singer, and/or dancer. An even larger team was involved in set design and construction, costumes, lighting, sound, and special effects, and it all comes together well.

Performances are 7:30 Friday and Saturday evenings, and 2 PM Sunday afternoon. Highfield Theater is at 58 Highfield Drive in Falmouth. Tickets are $16, $14 for seniors 62 and older and for children and youth under 18. Call 508-548-0400 or visit www.falmouththeatreguild.org for information and to purchase tickets.

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