By Preet Manukonda of Westfield High School
Finding one’s purpose in life shouldn’t typically entail tyrannical fathers, intense battles, dying ducks, or even a scheming stepmother. Well, that sure wasn’t the case for the cast and crew at Justice High School’s production of Pippin, who went through all the above and more to deliver an honorable performance of this 1972 musical.
Written by Roger O. Hirson, Pippin is a bewitching production that teeters across the fine line between reality and magic, while simultaneously making Broadway history. This production expresses the journey of a young prince, Pippin, whose life is narrated and controlled by the marvelously engrossing yet manipulative Leading Player. However, the circus-themed show goes awry as personal opinions, love, and speculation overthrow any authority the Leading Player has over Pippin.
With the combined efforts of the tech teams and well-timed breaches of the fourth wall, Justice High School’s take on this Tony award-winning show intertwined wit and solemnity to display heightened emotions and mood changes.
Having exceptional chemistry with nearly every member of the cast, Elijah Kassa brought a considerable amount of charisma to his role as Pippin. Kassa acted receptively, as he molded to fit in with the various emotions the ensemble portrayed throughout the show. Furthermore, Kassa’s rendition of Pippin played off of the Leading Player’s (Valeria Peterson) subtle hand gestures and movements, highlighting the dynamic and contrast between the two drastically different characters. Peterson’s strong vibrato during “On the Right Track” was an illustration of these differences, as she displayed the influence the cunning ringmaster had over the rest of the ensemble.
In her role as Fastrada, Angel Stanfield brought moments of amusement to otherwise malicious scenes through a flirtatiously boisterous personality that was only complimented by gratifying amounts of gesticulation. Furthermore, Sofi Hemmens’ characterization of Catherine exhibited the hostility Catherine had towards the Leading Player, as Hemmens broke the fourth wall masterfully, despite that typically being a role reserved for Peterson’s Leading Player. While there were moments where mics became spotty, the ensemble strode across each scene, improvising and staying true to their characters.
Pippin demands an intense amount of emotion from its actors, but the technical aspects must be perfect as well to truly portray the circus-like themes of this musical. This task was admirably executed by the lights team (Elizabeth Cheek and Benny Ward). Moving lights, usage of the cyclorama, a projector, and more, added to the chaos and fervor amongst those on stage while also engaging the audience. Furthermore, the frequent use of silhouettes and mood lighting brought attention to the makeup done by the makeup crew (Charlie Boucher, Makayla Freeman, and the Make-up Mavens) and the props. Each member of the ensemble had traditional mime makeup that enabled them to over-dramatize their actions, while props, like fans constructed to represent fire alluded to moments later, performed in the musical.
Displaying the various ups and downs during Pippin’s journey to self-satisfaction, Justice High School took on a demanding task performing Pippin; but it was one that they managed to turn into a very fine show.