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In the Musical Theatre Guild’s production of “Pippin,” Mia A. Shandell ’10 watches over Pippin (Benjamin Moncivaiz ’11) as he is crowned king after he killed his father for being an unjust ruler.
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Pippin

MIT Musical Theatre Guild

Directed by Krista Sergi

Nov. 30 – Dec. 8, 2007

La Sala de Puerto Rico

A couple of months ago, I was excited to find out that MIT Musical Theatre Guild would produce “Pippin,” and I have been eagerly awaiting the premiere ever since. This musical is particularly endearing, not only because of its catchy music but also because of its remarkably powerful symbolism. The story is an allegory of life itself, unwinding as a journey of self-discovery. It offers a little bit of everything and has something for everyone.

“Pippin” is the historical tale of one of Charlemagne’s sons, Pippin, and his search for meaning while living in the overwhelming shadow of his father the king. After studying at one of the Middle Age’s leading universities, Pippin returns home ready to embrace life in the real world as he searches for his true calling. However, due to his naïve and idealistic views, Pippin’s various careers — which include being a soldier alongside his father, enjoying the simple pleasures of life as a debauched prince, serving as a politician with throne ambitions, and acting as a peasant immersed in the pastoral life — are short-lived and not fulfilling. In the end, Pippin is faced with the ultimate choice between a devil-crafted extraordinary destiny and a common fate alongside a loving but ordinary woman.

This simple story lends itself perfectly to heavy symbolism, allowing each spectator to identify themselves with the protagonist and his obsessive searches for meaning in life. The plot is helped by Stephen Schwartz’s truly outstanding score, which strikes an amazing balance between the more convoluted arias of traditional musicals and the catchy choruses of contemporary pop songs. Consequently, Schwartz’s tunes resonate in spectators’ heads long after they leave the theater. In addition, the lyrics — also by Schwartz — are deliciously funny and amazingly fresh, in spite of the fact that they were written more than 30 years ago.

MTG’s vibrant production of “Pippin,” directed by Krista Sergi, is above everything very innovative and original. The plot, though simple, requires multiple fast changes of backdrops, which can be difficult to pull off. MTG’s set solution involved a static frame that could be redecorated with minimal props from scene to scene. Often the main cast carried out these changes as part of their dance routines, delivering seamless and very satisfying transitions.

The multipurpose nature of some of the props and costumes also enhanced the symbolism of the story, as props acquired different meanings when seen in a different light. Indeed, lighting was the key to this show’s magic; the scheme was intricate and highly effective in setting the mood for each scene. Notable effects here included the opening, when the performer’s faces were only lit from the floor for an eerie effect, and the cathedral scene, where the dim crimson lights conjured a truly pious atmosphere.

MTG’s interpretation of the script also bears elements of innovation. The most striking of these interpretations is the anthropomorphized map (J. Karen Wong ’10) used by Charlemagne (Kenneth N. Kamrin G) to describe his plan of battle. The original topology of the map conveys lyrical double entendres with hilarious implications. For another humorous touch, the angels summoned by Catherine (Karen A. Hart ’11) to cheer up Pippin (Benjamin Moncivaiz ’11) are the devil’s minions with angel wings — hinting yet again towards the dichotomy of human nature. Finally, the sex scene from the second act is worth noting for its originality and humor, not to mention the acrobatic skills of the performers (Wong and Matthew E. Spencer G).

The main cast also delivered a vast array of vocal talent, and each of the catchy tunes was brought to life with lots of passion and enthusiasm. As the leading player, Mia A. Shandell ’10 engaged the audience with her seductive voice and a very commanding stage presence. Moncivaiz was an inspiring Pippin during his theme song “Corners of the Sky” and was especially moving in the lyrical ballads “With You” and “Love Song.” Danbee Kim ’09 (also a Tech cartoonist) superbly delivered the high-spirited scene with Pippin’s grandmother, Berthe. Her solid vocal talents and amazing acting and dancing skills established the song “No Time at All” as the most memorable piece in the whole musical. “No Time at All” also featured a sing-along moment, where the audience joined the performers for a couple of choruses, adding to the number’s memorability.

Carrie A. Lee ’10 delivered a delightful portrayal of Fastrada, Pippin’s stepmother, seducing the audience not only through her resonant voice but also her dancing skills. Charlemagne’s portrayal was equally captivating, as Kamrin’s deep voice and polished acting projected a king-worthy awe. Last but not least, Hart showcased the best voice in the whole musical. Although her numbers were relatively short, her soulful voice, precise intonation, and passionate delivery moved the audience to tears.

Over all, MTG’s “Pippin” is an amazing treat for the heart and the mind. True to its nature, this musical merges exuberant singing with energetic dancing and lots of humor. For those looking for more than simple fun, the symbolism of the story is guaranteed to keep you pondering. I highly recommend seeing it before it closes this Saturday.