The First Year Players offer first-year students a chance to shine onstage every year — and shine they did in this fall’s production of “Pippin.” While not always perfectly polished and professional, their production was carried by an infectious cast and ensemble energy that made it impossible not to laugh and cheer along with the enthusiastic performance.
The play tells the story of Charlemagne’s son, the titular Pippin (first-year College student Brandon Bolick), who feels like the black sheep of his family. The show follows him through a series of adventures, searching for meaning through epic battles, casual sex and finally settling down with a family. His life is acted out by circus players, headed by the Leading Player (first-year College student Hanna Kornell), who promises an exciting finale.
Kornell, as the Leading Player, set the example for the rest of the ensemble with an impressive, enthusiastic performance. She brought the exact type of over-the-top energy that makes a show like “Pippin” so enjoyable, and coupled it with an excellent vocal performance.
The highlight of the show, though, may have been the hilarious antics and clever little jokes added in by the truly committed ensemble. They represented the players of the circus troupe acting out Pippin’s life — creatively providing the background action for a wide variety of scenes. Even without speaking roles, these actors brought plenty of personality to their roles, and provided the backbone for what was a truly entertaining show.
In one scene in a farmyard, an ensemble member playing a pig developed a grudge against Pippin for stepping on him — deftly conveying his emotions to the audience from the background of the scene without speaking a word. At another moment, ensemble members protesting the king carried Trump and Clinton-themed signs. Even the orchestra got involved — on several occasions, members of the pit stepped up on stage for a quick joke with one of the actors. All of these efforts, and more, kept the audience cracking up throughout the show.
At some points in the Sunday night performance, it was almost hard to tell what was part of the show and what were light-hearted closing night pranks by the cast and crew. During a sex scene between Pippin and Catherine (first-year College student Julia Guarneri), one saxophonist stood up for a solo to the tune of the “Sexy Sax Man” song, to uproarious laughs from the audience.
As the two sat up in bed and threw the blankets off, Pippin pulled out a Juul and took a post-coital puff –– a true innovation in the theatre arts, and another gag that the audience loved. There’s no telling whether irreverent jokes like these were scripted as part of the show all along, but it hardly mattered –– the audience was eating it up.
The speaking cast brought much of the same energy and enthusiasm to their roles. Charles (first-year College student Doug Kulow) drew laughs with plenty of funny one-liners, and brought just the right confident charisma to the role, shining in high-tempo songs like “War is a Science.” His stepson, Lewis (first-year College student Chris Lang), demonstrated the same sense of masculine confidence, only heavily exaggerated –– a character choice the audience seemed to appreciate.
Fastrada (first-year College student Veronica Seguin), struck just the right balance as Charles’ clever, scheming wife and Lewis’ overprotective mother. Berthe (first-year College student Amelia Lindsey) — Pippin’s surprisingly crude mother — demonstrated both her comedic talent and her excellent voice in her scene. She had the audience laughing along with her, and, before long, singing along in her song “No Time At All.”
Topping off the strong performance by the cast was a well-executed set, costume and props design by the crew. The set was fairly elaborate but still surprisingly versatile, serving as a wide variety of locations throughout the play with only minor adjustments. The costumes and props fit nicely with the irreverent, enthusiastic tone of the show. For example, Lewis paraded proudly into battle wearing his armor and weapons — a foam sword and a catcher’s pads. The ensemble wore very simple gray and black costumes, which allowed the small ensemble — just 14 people — to stand in as a wide variety of characters.
It was simply impossible to watch FYP’s production and not have a good time –– the cast’s love for the show and for performing was too infectious. It wasn’t the most poised and polished –– much of the humor bordered on irreverence and breaking the fourth wall –– but was all the better for it. The unorthodox approach allowed the players’ sense of humor to come through and allowed the show to keep a sense of self-awareness. The budding actors truly seemed to love bringing the musical’s magic to the stage, and the audience couldn’t help but love watching them do it.