I’ve Got Ma-Ma-Ma-Ma-Magic To Do

Continuing with our theatre this weekend, we went to go see “Pippin” at East West Players. Now, many of you may be familiar with “Pippin” (book by Roger O. Hirson, music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz), and the original choreography by Bob Fosse, who essentially crafted the story to work his magic. Well, East-West Players is not your typical company (it is an all Asian American company), and this version of Pippin was not your mother’s Pippin, nor your father’s Oldsmobile.

For those unfamiliar, Pippin is the story of the son of King Charlemange, who is searching for his meaning in life. The leading player invites the audience to join them in the story of the search, promising a grand finale. We see Pippin’s search through being a warrior, through the simple joys of fleshly pleasure, through attempts at leadership of his people (and regicide), through the simple domestic life… all leading to the grand finale the leading player wants: Pippin’s immolation in flame. But Pippin decides on another course, leaving the leading player to strike the sets, and find someone else to have the magic. You can also find a summary in my review of the Reprise staging of Pippin in 2005.

In the East-West Pippin, the basic story was there, but it was twisted a bit. The music, with the same themes, had strong hip-hop and sampling flavors. The artwork and costumes were heavily Asian (including full kimonos and Japanese war garb). The dancing incorporated both traditional Japanese and Chinese moves, as well as martial arts, hip-hop, and jazz. The projections were strongly Anime. This revision of the story was under the direction of Tim Dang, with a score adaptation by Marc Macalintal.

The cast was strongly up to the challenge (I should note we saw the last preview, and it was our Pippin’s fourth performance, so he was still consulting the script). The leading player was Marcus Choiæ, who cast a menacing figure in a long coat and goatee. As Pippin was Ethan Le Phongæ, who was remarkably strong and mesmerizing as the young prince. His evil stepmother (isn’t there always one), Fastrada, was played by Jenn Aedo, who is extremely sexy and suggestive, even when blowing bubbles. Her strong but stupid son Lewis was played by Cesar Ciprianoæ. King Charles was played by Mike Hagiwaraæ, in full feudal warlord getup. In an interesting casting move, Berthe, Pippin’s old grandmother, was played by a man, Gedde Watanabeæ. Rounding out the domestic force in Pippin’s later life were Catherine, played by Meagan McConnellæ, and her son, Theo (William Jay). Supporting all of these folks were the dance crew, Kari Lee Cartwrightæ, Ryyn Chua, Blythe Matsuiæ, Mike Mohæ, and Chloe Stewartæ.
(æ æ denotes Actors Equity)

The unique Hip-Hop sound of the musical was achieved by a remarkable three piece, well, band is not the right word. Mark Macalintal was on keyboard, Vince Reyes on guitar, and DJ Linotype served as DJ. Other significant technical credits include choreography by Blythe Matsui and Jason Tyler Chong, scenic and projection design by Alan E. Muraoka, costume design by Naomi Yoshida, lighting design by Dan Weingarten, prop coordination by Ken Takemoto, and hair and makup by Jackie Phillips. Stage management was by Ronn Gosswickæ, assisted by Ondina V. Dominguezæ.

I highly recommend this production for a different take on a great musical. It continues through June 8, 2008.

As for us, what’s next on the theatre calendar. Next Sunday at 2pm we see “The Full Monty” at REP East Playhouse. The following weekend, Sat 5/24 @ 8pm we’re seeing “Of Mice and Men” at Pasadena Playhouse. The following weekend all of nsshere’s hard work pays off in the production of “Grease” at Nobel Middle School (5/29 @ 6:30pm, 5/30 @ 6:30pm, and 5/31 @ 2:30pm and 6:30pm). June brings “A Very Brady Musical” at Theatre West (Sat, 6/14 @ 8pm) and “A Chorus Line” @ Ahmanson Theatre (Sat, 6/28 @ 2pm). Lastly, July brings “The Drowsy Chaperone” at Ahmanson Theatre (Sun 7/13 @ 1pm), “Looped” at Pasadena Playhouse (Sat 7/26 @ 8pm), and “Singing in the Rain” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (Sat 7/31 @ 2pm). I’m still exploring tickets for “Songs From an Unmade Bed” at Celebration Theatre (6/22 or 7/5) and “Parade” at Neighborhood Playhouse, Palos Verdes (7/13).