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Pictured: Donterrio Johnson, Iris Lieberman, Sawyer Smith, Kayla Boye, Koray Tarhan, Nicole Armold, Adam Fane, Michael Rawls, and Don Forston. Photo by Brett Beiner.
By Tonika Todorova
There are many aspects to admire about PIPPIN, in the pursuit of an extraordinary life, currently on display at Mercury Theater’s Venus Cabaret space. In the intimate confines of the venue, the choreography, singing and storytelling feel like they want to fill every crevice without overwhelming an audience sitting right under their noses. The result is a fun fluid show that relies on its message rather than smoke and mirrors.
Koray Tarhan brings us a likable Pippin with the naiveté only young people can deliver. Thinking he is intended to fulfill some extraordinary destiny, he tastes the atrocities of war, the pleasures of carnal knowledge, the excitement of revolution and consequently, the throne of power. But when he is the most content living the simple life, he self-sabotages his own happiness. Surely, we can all relate. How many miles do we travel before we realize that happiness is an inside job? Donterrio Johnson is a slick and alluring Leading Player whose enticing gestures can trick anyone into playing it up, rendering his erasure of all the glitz and glitter all that more profound. The ensemble is solid from top to bottom, including Sawyer Smith (Fastrada) and Adam Fane (Lewis) as a delectable duo resembling a pair straight out of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Gabriel Robert offers an authentic portrayal of Theo, the young son.
PIPPIN’s design elements are limited here. Although the video design helps create dynamics in what otherwise would have been a static stage, it often feels a bit cheesy. The lighting comes to life in certain musical numbers, but it could go much further to create a more vivacious atmosphere. Rachel Boylan’s costume design shines through the limitations, and the throwback to Fosse’s jazz hands on all the actors’ main costume pieces are a very nice touch. Pun intended. Brenda Didier’s choreography is crafted beautifully to match the energy of the space. Anything more could be mayhem.
By the finish, the show ends up a bit anti-climactic. In order for Pippin to reject the magic and the falsity of his epic demise — for his understanding to feel authentic and heartfelt — the extraordinariness of his climax has to be, well, extraordinary. But here, the production somehow shies away from grandeur. You promise Pippin’s end to be glorious, but where is the hoopla? Bring back the tambourines! Cause some havoc! We’ve been waiting for this moment for so long, don’t rush it! Only then can Pippin (and we) realize how being true to yourself can be the fulfillment of your most extraordinary life.
PIPPIN runs through November 18th. For more information visit MercuryTheaterChicago.com.