Pippin | Theatre Royal Drury Lane | Review

Pippin – 50th Anniversary Concert

Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Director: Jonathan O’Boyle
Composer: Stephen Schwartz

Produced by Katy Lipson for Aria Entertainment & Carter Dixon McGill Productions

Pippin, the Tony award-winning musical by Stephen Schwartz, returned to the West End stage last night, 50 years after its first performance. Taking over the Theatre Royal Drury Lane for two nights only, Pippin follows the story of King Charlemagne’s son Pippin, as he navigates his place in the world with the help, or hinderance, of some familiar faces. The story takes place as a play within a play and as the lights come up, the audience are transported to a world of magic, mischief, mayhem and more.

Opening to raucous applause, Alex Newell took to the stage as the ‘Leading Player’. Newell’s vocals, throughout, were crisp, clear and quite frankly, spectacular; they have a gift not many possess. As the show went on, Newell effortlessly guided the audience through the trials and tribulations of Pippin, performing hit numbers “Magic to Do” and “Glory”, which was a highlight for me, as was the duet between Newell and Jac Yarrow, “On the Right Track”, which showcased the pair’s ease and chemistry together.

Jac Yarrow played the titular role, bringing a lovely innocence and playfulness to Pippin and maintained a calm and collected essence on stage, allowing the audience to trust in his performance. The rest of the core cast, including the four ‘Players’ who also performed key dance numbers, were magnificent but in particular, Cedric Neal as ‘King Charlemagne’, who despite playing a tyrannical dictator, brought such humour to the role, you couldn’t help but smile every time he came on, and acting legend Patricia Hodge, playing Pippin’s grandmother, Berthe, who brought the house down with her performance of “No Time at All”.

Despite this praise, the stars of the show, for me, were the London Musical Theatre Orchestra, conducted by Chris Ma, accompanied by the 50-person choir made up of Arts Ed students. Ma’s musical direction was spell-binding; the orchestra held such control and knew when to pull back or push on and combined with the power of the choir, this was a match that made the most magic throughout the night.

The show was filled with witty humour; innuendos galore and perfect comedic timing from the actors. However, Act II felt like a whirlwind, with plot lines becoming muddled and new characters emerging without an understanding of how and when. Perhaps this comes down to the narrative itself failing to compete with the excitement and intrigue of the first half, but it meant that I found myself withdrawing from the show until another flash of excitement and energy hit the stage.

Despite this being a staged concert, the production value was incredibly high. Joanna Goodwin’s choreography brought Bob Fosse’s influence to life, and Polly Sullivan’s costume design worked wonderfully with the extravagance of the show. There were a few tech issues with mics, meaning certain lines were missed, but with such a quick rehearsal period and turn-around, as a collective piece, it was a truly glorious spectacle.

Whilst I’m not sure I found the complete magic of Pippin, there is no denying the talent that graced the Theatre Royal Drury Lane stage last night.


Reviewed by Lily Sitzia

Photo: Pamela Raith