San Diego Theater Preview: PIPPIN (San Diego Junior Theatre at the Casa del Prado Theatre)

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by Tony Frankel on July 28, 2017

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


Here’s a can’t-miss opportunity: San Diego Junior Theatre is presenting the perky but dark 1972 musical, Pippin. Don’t be fooled by the moniker “Junior Theatre,” for these shows are just as slick as one with adult performers. For a small ticket price, head over to the beautiful Casa del Prado Theatre in Balboa Park, and catch the best young talent in Southern California bringing a terrific show to life.

With a book by Roger O. Hirson, Pippin is about about a prince searching for fulfillment in the realm of his father, Charlemagne (a.k.a. King Charles). Constructed like Children’s Theater—although it’s clearly for the older crowd, dealing with regicide, combat, and lust, to name a few—the first act is a chain of scenes (most with a character who appears only once): Pippin as warrior; Pippin as king; Pippin as sex machine.

Act II follows the depressed prince as he attempts domesticity with a widow and her young son. Then he’s back to his futile quest, egged on all the while by a chorus of street performers and the Leading Player, a Sportin’ Life emcee who devilishly urges Pippin to explore facets of life that, once discovered to be empty, may lead the youth to despair and maybe even suicide.

I have a soft spot in my heart for Pippin. First, the cheeky and sophisticated tunes by Stephen Schwartz captured my imagination with soaring ballads and bouncy Broadway burlesque; the original cast album rarely left my turntable. Second, the timeless parable of simplicity triumphing over the desire for more remains persuasive. Born in the year that disillusionment with politics, Watergate, and the Vietnam War was growing thick, America was rethinking her gung-ho egocentrism, and a show which parodied the futility of war, power, and the burgeoning sexual revolution in a stylized but darkened Vaudevillian context was, for audiences anyway, a breath of fresh air, running a whopping 1.944 performances.

I love the existential message, which is practically Theater of the Absurd: Looking for meaning in a meaningless existence is futile; extraordinary satisfaction can be found in accepting life’s absurdity. As per Pippin’s grandmother, life is merely a brief gift to be enjoyed as best one can. And I can think of no greater gift than a throng of talented young actors inspiring all of us to believe that the world is better than fake news would suggest.

photos by Ken Jacques

San Diego Junior Theatre
Casa del Prado Theatre
1600 Village Place in Balboa Park
Fri and Sat at 7; Sun at 2
for tickets, call 619.239.8355 or visit SDJT

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